Friday, January 15, 2010

Fiction Chili

So here's what happens. You write a novel and you Love it. Capital L Love it. You revise it and work it and cherish it more than your neighbor cherishes their red-headed stepchild*. Then, you're in Borders, or on Goodreads, or out on the blogosphere and you hear about another book that's published (or about to be). And it sounds Just. Like. Yours. 

Panic ensues.

Well yesterday I made chili for the first time ever... from scratch. (I'm going somewhere with this, I promise.) I got a bunch of ingredients, browned some ground beef, and threw everything together in a crockpot and let it sit on low for 8 hours. Man did my house smell good. I was pumped because Nelson loves chili and I love when I impress him with my (every once in a while) culinary finesse.

Then I remembered that while Liz, my sister, was here visiting for 6 weeks she made chili too. And it was friggin' incredible. Really, I mean just D-E-licious. Nelson loved it. The huge batch she made was gone in less than two days, mostly thanks to him.  And BAM! the self-doubt came barreling in**. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but I was nervous that my chili wouldn't measure up...  or that he would think I copied her recipe.

But a few seconds later I laughed at myself. Because really, when have two chili recipes ever tasted the exact same? Sure, many bowls taste similar to one another--but mostly that's a GOOD thing for people who enjoy that particular type of chili. And within the realm of chili, there are So. Many. Different. Ingredients.

Stories are just like that. Even if there are hundreds of books being written/published with the same sort of premise as yours, it's what you add to it—your blend of ingredients—that will make it unique.

In the picture above, there are fifteen different ingredients that make your particular novel stand out from all the others like it. And there could be hundreds more! (I just ran out of ingredients to label...)

So take a deep breath... Believe in yourself and in your batch of chili.

And in case you need another nudge on this, check out the stellar guest post on agent Rachelle Gardner's blog about the trap you fall into when comparing yourself to other writers.

*I can make red-head jokes. My husband has beautiful red hair and I asked his permission.
** Okay, I realize that this self-doubt is nowhere NEAR the level that writers go through, but it's all for the sake of the comparison!

♥ me


  1. That's a great analogy, and now I'm hungry, THANKS!

    Even though some ideas may be the same, concept-wise, they do have their own elements that we as writers can add.

    There's a lot of talk out there about "there's no original ideas, only original takes on existing ones," but I wouldn't say that's entirely true. Ideas do have originations, but let's face it, most original ideas have been done, so we have to learn to work with and individualize some already popular concepts.

  2. I loved this post! I mean, really, really LOVE it!

    I've had my fair share of (ohmygoshthatbooksoundsjustlikemineandwhyamidoomedtoneverhaveanoriginalidea) kind of moments. But, in the end, it's okay. Because what's most important is what I bring to the story.

    Good luck and I hope your chili turned out great!

  3. Hahaha!!! Love the fiction chili. Love it love it!! And I KNOW I at least crossed your mind when you wrote this. Hahaha! Oh, but how I needed to read this. So true, so spot on, and sooooo good for me to remember. What would I do without you, Awesomer?

  4. Hi Miss Sara,

    You may want to stop my blog today! There is something shiny waiting for you!

    xoxo -- Hilary

  5. Hahaha that is sooooo true!!! Love the analogy!

  6. "Even if there are hundreds of books being written/published with the same sort of premise as yours, it's what you add to it—your blend of ingredients—that will make it unique."

    GREAT QUOTE!!!!!! Reminds me of an old blog post: http://coffeelvnmom.blogspot.com/2009/12/hey-they-stole-my-line.html

  7. Loved this comparison to Chili and especially the photo!

    It is so nice to hear other authors worry about this subject!

    Have a great weekend!

  8. Have you read my mind? As I continue to plot my lastest story, I think about some elements and say "this character sounds like ..." and "so-and-so had a plot with ..." and I started to FREAK. I so do not want to copy anyone! But the more I thought about it, finding a truly original character or plot is impossible. Its all been done before (I actually first learned as a kitchen designer) it's all in how YOU do it.

    Thanks for backing me up! (I hope your chili was awesome!)

  9. Ooh, I love this analogy! I think this is something we all go through sometimes. There's a movie out right now that has one plot element that I'm using in my WIP. Had no idea it was in the movie when I started writing my book. But mine is totally different from the movie. Like you said - it's all in how you present it.

  10. Great analogy! Um, yeah. Been there, read that. And yes, panic ensuing. But I have to keep believing that if that book sold, maybe mine will too, you know?

  11. This is one of my biggest fears as a writer. But you're right. Two stories will never be the same.


  12. Good post! I can tell from recent blog entries I've read that there has been a lot of author self-doubt going around lately.

    Also, I love love LOVE that your biggest ingredient was SEX. LOVE. <3

  13. What a terrific analogy, Sara! You are so, so right. It's hard to be original anymore, but seeing someone else with YOUR idea is really painful. I gave a loud yelp in Barnes and Noble once when I saw this one book in the YA section - I got really weird stares - but I had just been congratulating myself on my totally awesome idea and bam, there it was in shiny paperback form. But every book is different because each author has her own spin and way of storytelling. Awesome post!

  14. Great post, Sara - loved it! But....what I wanna know is, did your hubby love your chili? :-)

  15. okay I always love to see you pop up with a new entry on my blogroll, but I must say the titel Fiction Chilli had me clicking even more quickly than normal.
    You are quite right. We just have to follow our gut, believe & love our story and just take the risk. No matter what, if we are satisfied that our story is told the way we want no matter how different from the current selections or how similar that itself is an accomplishment.

    So yeah use onions when they use onions, but maybe, just maybe it is that Hershey chocolate bar you slip in during the last hour that makes a creamy consistency unlike any other and makes that bowl of chili stand alone. ;o)

  16. Most inspiring post for those of us who lack faith in our WIPs from time to time.

    Succinctly put.

    How was the chilli?

  17. Mmmm, chili. Wonderful analogy. I know I always start to freak out if I hear of a book or movie that has the same idea as mine...then I try and relax and remember that there are so many different factors--the characters, styles of writing, humour, etc.

    This was an encouraging post. Thanks!

  18. I LOVE this post. Definitely what I needed to hear today. Thanks for the inspiration!

  19. Yummy ... can almost smell that chili from here :) How did it turn out?

    Great analogy - and so very true!!!

  20. Great analogy! It's not like we as writers can ever do anything TRULY original, anyway... but our own special mish-mash of elements makes something original out of all those done-before pieces.

    So how'd the chili come out? :)

  21. MMMMMMM. Your ingredients look yummy-for either a story line or the chili! How 'bout a chili story??? If your house smelled that good, the recipe was probably GREAT!
    Thanks for another tip to keep the critic at bay.

  22. I love this entry, because it's so true. I know I've felt that thrill of panic whenever I hear about a book that sounds similar to something I write, or worse, see it at the bookstore.

    The worst one yet is when I don't realize something I've picked up is similar to me, and I read it and love it, and then despair.

    :) Great entry, and really unique way of putting it all into perspective.

  23. Great post Sarah and great analogy - I love chili and even I never make it the same way twice. The enjoyed the Rachelle Gardner link as well. I experienced this feeling a few months ago - when I saw a book that had a similar theme as mine and panic ensued, but then I thought great I can study her book and see if there's something I missed.

  24. The analogy to chilli is a great one! I especiallyl love your blend of ingredients picture. LOL

    To me it seems that all writers are born with a radio receiving set in their heads so they can hear the Muse. And though sometimes the ideas whispered into our ears may be similar, it may be that a certain idea and its variations are really important for some reason we can't readily see. And the Muse is asking us to do our part.

  25. Thank you so much for this. In the middle of something it is so easy to not see the value or event the good things that are there and to focus on what's missing or what might have been done better by someone else. It's hard to step back and see the reality of what's there.

    Every once in a while everyone needs something like this to remind them.

    And I love chili. :)


Yay! I love when you have things to add :)