The concept I am going to introduce today is as important for blogging and essay writing as it is for fiction writing. If originality is your goal, it can do that. If being interesting is your goal, it does that too. If you’re simply looking for a cool phrase that’ll make you sound all writerly and important, it can provide that too.
What separated Cassandra Clare from the Harry Potter fanfiction life? What brought her from virtual anonymity to the fame she enjoys today? Was it just good writing? I doubt it. Good use of the HP characters? No, because all the books she’s published are separate.
Before we answer that, I must ask you another question. Why are you reading this post?
It’s the bumblebees, isn’t it? Put bumblebees in the title and you’ll get everyone reading. You don’t want to read about the concepts or outlining– I’ve posted about them before. Why read about what you already know? Tyrannical bumblebees, however…
So all this brings me to my point. Why are you reading this post, and why did anyone else read Clare’s stuff? Why is anything original when we all know it uses the same techniques and occasionally the same story?
It all comes down to one little thing, that element that makes your story original and interesting, and the thing itself sounds cool on its own. It’s a little bundle of fun in three words– so strong it can remove fanfiction from its original, blog-scanners from their scroll bar, and animal fat from frying pans. Well. Not necessarily the last one. But it’s still pretty cool.
This thing, my friends, this little packet of power, is called the gee-whiz factor.
Cool, isn’t it? Gee whiz, the gee-whiz factor! But what is it? It’s whatever makes you say “Gee whiz”, or whatever you like to say when you’re pleasantly surprised. “Wow”, “Cool”, or “Groovy” could be substituted too, but I don’t think many people from this generation would like the sound of the Groovy Factor.
The gee-whiz factor must be present in everything. Even if you’re James Patterson and you reuse the same plots over and over again with a stereotypical main character, you have to have a gee-whiz factor. Something has to set the book apart from the last one, where the same main character battled the same sort of crime in the same city.
And what is a series but fanfiction written by the author? Thus, the same goes for Cassandra Clare. The characters weren’t really important– she could make new characters in her stories and it could still be fanfiction. What she needed was to mess with the fundamental concept of the HP world, wizards at boarding school. Her gee-whiz factor turned out to be demon hunters in New York City. It wouldn’t matter if it had contained a kid with glasses and a lightning-shaped scar on his head, it still would have been different enough to sell.
Take this post. I’ve posted about writing for a while on this blog, and no one seems to go for the more technical posts. But when I add a llama into the title, or a tyrannical bumblebee, suddenly they’re stumbling over themselves to read it, just because it’s different. Now, don’t look at this as manipulation on my part– I don’t want anyone to storm off in a huff because they didn’t get to read about bumblebees. But really, this should be a consideration in writing blog posts. What’s your spin on this topic? What separates it from everything else? What makes it yours?
Sure, you could write about plotting, but anyone who reads past the title will probably already be interested in plotting. They will probably know just as much as you do, maybe even more. What do you have to offer them, therefore, that isn’t already theirs? What will make them say, “Wow, I didn’t know that before”?
Let’s say there’s a kid at a science fair presenting a posterboard about bumblebees. Printed in 72-point neon green Comic Sans, his display postulates that bumblebees are cute and fuzzy but they have sharp rear ends so you shouldn’t pet them. What a cute project.
Now turn around and look across the aisle, where there stands a kid who didn’t put much more into his display. He did bumblebees too. 72-point neon green Comic Sans is scattered across the board, making the eyes of those reading water like a leaky faucet. His project, however, instead of simply “Bees”, roars in bold text, “THE TYRANNICAL BUMBLEBEE”, and explains how horrible the queen bee is to her citizens.
Now, to which display will the casual viewer dedicate her last vestiges of focused eyesight? Which display will she pore over, trying to find meaning in that senseless jumble of neon squiggles? And, wonder the two boys, to which will she award the coveted first prize ribbon?
The kid with the volcano exhibit, of course. The volcano always wins the science fair.
Nevertheless, the judge probably read the Tyrannical Bumblebee, as opposed to just the Bee. It isn’t a question of title, however, but of content– of the gee-whiz factor. Often the gee-whiz factor is so cool you can’t help but put it in your title, which is how titles get interesting.
Think of the gee-whiz factor as the qualification for you to write about this topic. You need a reason, more than just thinking that it’s cool. Bees might be cool, but it’s the tyrannical bumblebee that wins the day.