posted on June 6, 2023 by Erica Hollis

On Being Unique

My debut fantasy novel HEARTS FORGED IN DRAGON FIRE is set in a world where magic is an accepted fact of life, some family heirlooms come with an enchantment attached, and dragons lurk in all corners of the globe. Developing the world was one of my favorite parts of the writing process, but as I dove into outlining and worldbuilding, I found myself plagued by one major question. What would my dragons even be like?

I knew from the start I wanted the story to focus on a girl who can talk to dragons, and a dragon holding a city hostage in exchange for vast amounts of wealth. But that left me with a lot of blanks to fill in. Why can the girl talk to dragons? Why is the dragon hoarding gold? Why don’t the townspeople just kill it? Why is our heroine the one who has to help fix things? And what set this dragon apart from all the others?

As pointed out in this excellent video by Overly Sarcastic Productions, the definition of “dragon” itself is rather nebulous, and there are so many different ideas and elements from literally thousands of years and countless different cultures, that there’s no one idea of what a dragon can or can’t be. That was both good and bad news for me. The good part was that it meant I had a whole lot of ideas to play with, and a lot of wiggle room to do my own thing. The bad part, however, was that it would be an uphill battle trying to come up with something that hadn’t been done before.

And did I come up with something that hadn’t been done before?

…Ehhhh…

Real talk, I worked extremely hard to create a unique story set in a world that felt both unique and lived-in, new to the reader but very, very old to the characters. I wrote a story that I thought would offer something new to the genre and to readers, and I absolutely think it is my own. But one thing I’ve learned over the process of writing and editing this book is that if you as a writer get caught up in being completely unique, you will drive yourself into a wall.

The old cliché goes “there is nothing new under the sun,” and it seems to be true. That doesn’t mean that everyone is copying each other, but rather, that every artist inevitably takes inspiration from whoever came before them, and multiple artists are influenced by the same things. Websites like TV Tropes underline the common threads connecting countless stories, many of which may seem to have nothing to do with each other on the surface, and while that can feel like a bummer sometimes (“So nothing I write will be unlike anything else?”), it’s also really, really cool. People have wanted to hear stories about similar things throughout history and the entire world, and they’ve been telling those stories that whole time, too.

So, are my dragons completely special snowflakes? No, of course not. They’re my own, and I tried to do something new with the old ideas, but by virtue of being a story about a dragon hoarding a bunch of gold, it isn’t totally unique. And, though it’s taken some time, I’ve made my peace with that. Because no story is completely unique if stripped down to bare elements. How many books can be described as “two people who don’t like each other are forced into close proximity and subsequently grow to like each other”? Thousands. Literally thousands. But, while all those stories probably do share some recurring plot beats or ideas or themes, every author has their own voice and perspective, and that’s where the differences come in.

In the end, the key to making your story stand on its own isn’t trying to come up with a story that’s never, ever been told before, because that way frustration lies. The important thing is to make the old ideas your own, be it from inspecting them from a new angle, mixing up certain elements, or just adding your own personal flair. If you’ve developed a strong writing voice, and put a lot of work into the characters and setting, the story will be very quickly identifiable as its own thing. And, honestly, people like having common elements in the stories they read. After all, we wouldn’t be so into romance if we didn’t love the “happily ever after” trope!

Erica Hollis

Erica Hollis

Erica Hollis (she/her) writes about queer girls and magic, and getting to do that for an actual job is still unreal to her. HEARTS FORGED IN DRAGON FIRE, her debut F/F fantasy romance, is available in June 2023 with Entangled. Erica's other passions include cats, book shopping, anime, fairy tales, and being extremely bad at video games but playing them anyway. Feel free to chat with her via her official twitter @EHollisAuthor!

https://ericahollis.blogspot.com/

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