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What do I do if my story is too similar to another? | Writer Questions #9

So I'm working on a book about grim reapers and I just discovered its almost exactly like the plot of "dead like me"....I'm so mad. Ive never even seen this show before. How can I fix it without redoing all my work?

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Dear Writer,
Audre Lorde said, "There are no new ideas, there are only new ways of making them felt." She is getting at the heart of your question.
This concerns tropes and how to use them. Fact is, at this point in history, no one is going to write something that has never been seen before in at least some respects. Every writer must at contend with this truth, get over it, and keep writing.
My advice is that you not concern yourself with how much your original work may overlap with existing work in your medium or another medium. This happens to all of us from time to time in varying degrees.
Focus on the unique things you bring to the table. Research and be inspired. Your perspectives, passions, and expertise will forge a work that ca…
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"Writing what you know" in the age of cultural appropriation | Writer Questions #8

So I'm writing a book. This book is about Japanese people. It's a fictional book.
I chose Japan as the setting because I thought it was different from my native USA. I read once that so many novels take place in the Anglophone world, it's boring. And I thought it would be interesting to explore Japan for a few other reasons that I won't go into here, but you can ask me if you like through PM.

Anyway, I don't want to misrepresent Japan. I only know what little I've read about, and of course what they allow you to see through anime.

I know from "educating" myself that anybody from any culture can be spunky and fiery. But it's hard to believe when you've never experienced that culture for yourself and can't vouch for the types of spunkiness allowed. Is it spunkiness filtered through misogyny? What sort?
I want my one of my characters to be curious about Western things, but be ultimately patriotic and pro-Japan. I want another to be completely in…

Why live? | Writer Questions #7

My protagonist is a doctor who euthanizes the terminally ill and suicidal - anyone who asks for his help to come to a quick and painless end. Now I'm at a scene where he and another character are arguing their philosophies, with my intent of digging into the nuances of each position: life vs death.

However, I'm so far stuck in my MC's head that I'm drawing a blank on his opposition. His argument: "Everyone suffered and died. He wondered why anyone lived these days." So what would justify a miserable existence suffering indefinitely to the mere possibility that life gets better? (Also note that this is a low-tech fantasy world, where there aren't psychologists or psychiatric drugs. So no one's going to get any professional help.)

So can you answer him?: If someone wants to die, why don't you let them? Why shouldn't you help them come to a quick, painless, and humane end if their life isn't worth living anymore? If they're suffering beyond…

Is it okay to write badly on purpose? | Writer Questions #6

Writer: Is it ever OK to deliberately write poorly, as long as it serves a function of the story? I have a character who, throughout the story, has their memory altered to forget certain events, or to influence their perception. From a critic's perspective, it would seem as though the character just isn't written well; they don't react the way a normal character would given their circumstances, except that's intentional on my part. Flowers for Algernon did something similar, I remember, with its main character's speech changing over the course of the story. The MC's dialogue, in the beginning, has poor spelling/grammar, but it's OK because the story allows for this. In Flowers for Algernon it's easy to accept the poor grammar and spelling because we, as readers, know it's a part of the story up front. Is this OK? Can poor writing be excused by the plot? What about if the plot requires it to be kept secret? Can it be conveyed in other ways that somet…

How much do you describe a character's surroundings? | Writer Questions #5

Writer: 1. Do you describe the surroundings only when they drive the plot/story forward? Or [do] you like to describe them to give the reader a sense of the mood/setting/atmosphere? 2. How long are your descriptions? How do you decide the length?
Dear Writer,
Questions of craft are tethered to context. That said:
I often want the reader to be oriented to the immediate setting, even if the immediate setting isn't the most significant setting. In such cases, I choose a handful—usually no more than three—orienting details that engage some of the five senses and establish in broad terms where the characters are and what it's like to be there.
Even in a film or television shot of a detailed setting, the camera often doesn't linger on the setting's details unless it is to draw attention to something significant (Chekhov's Gun). More often, the cinematographer will use wide shots to broadly establish the setting and then cut to close-ups. I try and write along similar lines…

How much research should I do for my story? | Writer Questions #4

How much research do you do for a story and how faithful are you to said research? Are there times when you knowingly take a creative liberty for the sake of your story or do you stick to the research for the sake of authenticity? With fairy tales I tend to go either way. As long as I keep the rules internally consistent, I'm not too concerned with hardcore research. When I'm writing mystery, I am married to the research. But having a bit of world knowledge allows me to find reasonable loopholes that others might consider a Critical Research Failure. For example, without the amount of required hours and training a civilian cannot be a private investigator. But a consultant or paid informant can assist the police in an investigation, which is how I got away with having a stage combat trainer as an amateur sleuth.

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Dear Writer,
You've essentially answered your own question in paragraphs two and three. To a large extent, genre determines the degree to which we stick to…

Should Writers Obey the Rule of "No Adverbs"? | Writer Questions #3

As I explore this new world of writing, I come across some “rules” that can be amusing, if one recognizes them for the holy mantras they are, or confusing, if one doesn’t. Recently, the “no adverbs” religious utterance came to my attention. Why should a writer exclude those incredibly beautiful words? (Please don’t start your answer with the words “Stephen King”.)

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Dear Writer,
Two things on this.
First, on the concept of "rules" in writing. "Rules" are usually overcorrections. The fundamental principle of art is: "Do what is effective." Sometimes adverbs are "what is effective." Often, they are not.
Second, on what those who parrot such rules are getting at: Adverbs are often redundant. Certain verbs are neutral and will require an adverb to bring out nuance. "I walked to the store" implies something different than "I ran to the store." Both of those sentences are fine. It's also fine to write, "I walked quic…