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Original Settings

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

Last week John O’Neill sent a response to a writer who’d wanted some more detail about why his story had been rejected, and John, as you’ll see below, answered in more detail. We thought this might be interesting to Black Gate readers and writers and perhaps help further explain what we mean when we ask for more original world building, etc. Take it away John!

Thanks for taking the time to respond. I appreciate your interest. I’m always happy to elaborate.

You ask:

>What constitutes an original plot, setting and character?

This is the kind of question that begs a lengthy answer. I don’t really have time for that, so I’m going to take a shortcut and get right to the point: what I really mean is I’m looking for interesting plots, settings, and characters.

Being original is a huge step towards being interesting. Let’s take your opening scene, for example: a young man in a barbarian village is helping his father create a sword. Suddenly a group of men ride into the village with weapons drawn.

This isn’t very interesting. First, because I already know that those men are there to pillage the village and gather slaves. I also know that the boy’s noble father will die a heroic, but inevitable, death. I also know the boy will fight valiantly and be defeated, but not killed. And all that came to pass in your story, over the course of about 15 pages.

How do I know all that? Because I’ve read that plot, with that setting and those characters, more than once. More than a few times, actually.

Is it an unpardonable sin to re-use a recognizable setting in heroic fantasy? Probably not. It’s the same with familiar characters archetypes — the evil sorcerer, the noble barbarian — and even classic plots.  But each time you use a familiar element, your story gets less interesting. 

You did add some fresh elements — I was quite taken with your villains, and your intriguingly well-thought out approach to magic, for example. But when the first 15 pages of your tale presents a plot, setting, and characters I’ve seen before… it’s not for us, not matter how well written it is, or how fresh the villains are.

I hope that’s been helpful. Let me know if you have any additional questions.

Warm regards,

— John

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