What makes a good story? If you asked one hundred people that question, you would get a hundred different responses. As Jane Austen writers, we need to pay more attention to this question. Why? Because we are writing based on a previous work. Let’s face it: there are a lot of Pride and Prejudice variations, and there is little which has not been done.
I have read Pride and Prejudice fan fiction extensively, both published and unpublished works. If I asked a fellow Austen fan to come up with an idea for a novel, I could tell you whether your idea has been done before. Most of the time, it has. I might not be able to tell you who wrote it or what the title was, but I could likely tell you whether a plot has been done. I drive my sister crazy—she’s read a lot of my books and is planning to write her own, and when she mentions an idea she has, I usually respond with “Yup, I’ve read that before.”
But that’s really not the point. The trick is not to desperately look for something that hasn’t been done before. The trick is to put a new spin on it. So, what are my tricks?
I Write it Myself
A good Pride & Prejudice story should never copy huge swaths of text from the original. I know writers often do this, and I know why they do it. But that’s lazy writing. A writer should use their own words.
While I tend to prefer a complete reimagining of Pride and Prejudice, I do write books that branch off from the original at a critical point. When I do a scene from the original book, I try to write the events in a different order or have someone say something that takes the original conversation off on a tangent.
That does not mean that I will never use something from the original. In fact, I find it amusing to put the words of one character into the mouth of another . . . especially when the new character is Mr. Collins. He’s such a blast to play with!
Be Creative with Scenes
This is a trap I’ve fallen into, though I try to avoid it when I can. A lot of Jane Austen writing has the same elements: dinner parties, walks, morning visits, assemblies, and balls. Yes, I know that a lot of social life in those days centered around those activities.
A story is much more interesting, however, when you find different things for the characters to do. Send the characters to a new place, such as Brighton or come up with a new character with an estate in Staffordshire. Where are other places the characters can meet? Maybe the menagerie in London or at a picnic beside the tower of London. Or maybe a visit to more exotic places, such as Paris. I have not written a book in which Elizabeth or Darcy goes to America, but I think something like that would add a lot of interest to a story.
A Villain is a Must
There is some demand for stories which are all fluff, but to write a really good story, there has to be conflict, and though there tends to be quite a bit of conflict between our favorite characters, there’s nothing like a good villain to ratchet up the interest. Recently, I’ve written a number of stories where is a little less conflict between Darcy and Elizabeth, but I’ve also got some where they don’t get along. There’s room for both styles.
As for the villains themselves, Lady Catherine, Wickham, Caroline Bingley, and even Mrs. Bennet are good antagonists, and they’re the characters we all love to hate. Changing another character and making them a good antagonist can add some interest. I’ve used Mr. Bennet, Mr. Collins, and a sprinkling of original characters to fill the role of antagonist. I also try not to get predictable, though I will admit that I have used certain plot ideas more than once.
Give the Reader a Strong Elizabeth
Those who have read my books might have noticed, but rarely have I had Elizabeth serve only as a damsel in distress. To me, she is a strong character who knows how to take care of herself. Whether it’s fending off Wickham, striking back at Charlotte Lucas’s slimy younger brother, or escaping from a locked cabin in the middle of winter, I typically have Elizabeth effect her own rescue, though sometimes with the help of others.
But How Do You Come Up With an Idea?
To be honest, sometimes I hardly know myself how I came up with an idea. As some of you may know, I have written in the past with a collaborator, and while we tend to focus on original works when we write together these days, we haven’t ruled out working together again on a Pride & Prejudice. A long time ago, we came up with a long list of ideas which we have locked in a vault deep in the side of a mountain . . . er . . . well, it’s sitting in a Word document on OneDrive. But there are lot of ideas there, and on occasion, I have taken ideas from that document.
But there are many other ways I get ideas. Sometimes, I get them in dreams. Sometimes I get them due to random thoughts while taking a shower. The novel I am currently working on came out of a conversation I had with a friend about how a novel should not be based completely on coincidence. Anything can turn into an idea. I try to keep an eye open for everyday situations which might prove to be my inspiration.
That’s a bit of glimpse into my psyche. It’s not an exhaustive treatise on how I write, but it should give you a bit of an idea of what you’ll see from me in the future.
Now, I’m happy to confirm the announcement of my new novel, My Brother’s Keeper, which will be released on November 14. I would also like to reveal the cover at this time. As you will see below, the cover is similar to what I posted last time, but I went with a different mask, one which is more detailed and more sinister. This is completely by design, though you won’t find out why until the end of the novel.
I am excited for its release next Monday, and I hope you will join me!