There is a catchphrase in the literary agent world, and yes, even though it is only one word, it is indeed a phrase due to its usage, fresh. If we were able to compile every work of fiction going back to the first tale ever written, we would see that there is not a unique plot device out there. Now, before you begin erupting in outrage, let me elaborate, there may be new ways of looking at a plot device, but that same item has already been used, perhaps even thousands of times.
Let’s consider one of my favorite authors, Jim Butcher. His Dresden Files series is superb, but is it original? No, there have been private detective stories before and there have been wizards involved in finding the answers to mysteries before, not to mention tales with vampires, witches, werewolves, etc, etc, etc…What Jim did was add a different spin to a proven concept. He also did it with his Codex series, but without the panache of modern day Chicago and everyone’s favorite long-suffering and murdered PI. The Dresden files constitute the definition of “fresh”, but how?
In order to explain that I have to shift over into my self-promotion mode; the Tony Mandolin series would be considered by some to be a rip-off of the Dresden Files, but if that is the case the latter series would have to be a rip-off of a preceding first-person PI series and on down the line we go. No, my series has freshness because I added a unique spin to an existing genre. One, it is set in San Francisco, a city with its own unique personality. Two, one of my chief protagonists is an obviously gay, oversized black man, and three, the usual fantasy elements have been shifted just enough to be unique in their own twisted way.
Remember what I said about clichés in What Is It All About? Here is an example, in One Last Quiche; I introduce a new reoccurring character to the series, Julius the Werebeagle. I picture him as a sort of Don Knots personality who morphs into a hound dog rather than a wolf. Werewolves, like vampires have become so common they are locked in as clichés as far as fantasy writing is concerned so shifting the stereotype in a startling manner is the only way to make it fresh.
Another example is the use of wizards. In the Dresden Files, the author, for the most part upgraded from the Gandalf persona we see in nearly every other story from Tolkien all the way forward to Goodkind and JK Rowling, long hair, robes, yadda yadda. Dresden’s black leather duster and a beat up VW Beetle typified a fresh look. It also left me little room to maneuver. About the only avenue left was to place my wizard onto a social strata a few levels below that of Harry Dresden. So, I made him a drunk, and not just a drunk, but a mean drunk. That also typifies the meaning of fresh.
How then, you may ask, do you put all of this together and make it work as a book? That, my friends, will require a download.