Writing Original Ideas: Ichabod Kills Common Tropes

You love reading. You love discovering new characters and worlds. Big time readers like yourself eventually run into the dreaded ‘common tropes’ monster. After consuming a few hundred books, characters and ideas take on a familiar shade of prose.

Too Familiar Writing

You’re like, ‘Ah yes, the love triangle again. How original’ or ‘Oh good, another character whose childhood abuse has made him into a serial killer. Never seen that before.’

This is why I am so proud of my serial killer thriller ICHABOD, and why I am excited to share its opening with you here.

Ichabod is an upper-class playwright with no brain disorders and a past filled with nothing but love and peace. There are no apparent triggers to explain why he does the things he does (and why he believes what he believes).

These things involve experimental murder, mass disaster, and igniting a city-wide gang war, among other nefarious deeds. All of this is in the name of enacting his philosophy: crime rates will drop as the population is decreased.

Embrace the Strange

Another unique aspect of my novel is its hero. Detective Stephen Van Tassel is not the world weary boozer you’d expect in a serial killer novel. Instead, he is young and horrifically afflicted by the very disorder which makes him the one man uniquely qualified to solve the riddle of the chaos in Philicity.

He suffers from synesthesia, a blurring of the senses; he experiences the world like few humans ever have. And he remembers everything. He could tell you what the weather was like when he was having a conversation with a stranger ten years ago, and why the number 7 is a fat man wearing swimming trunks, or what the color red tastes like on an afternoon of 35’s.

‘Ichabod’ pits these two original characters against each other. Hunter and prey, haunted and determined, flawed and perfected.

Please enjoy the opening passages:

Continue reading “Writing Original Ideas: Ichabod Kills Common Tropes”

Fablehaven Book Review

Fablehaven is the kind of series you recall with fond memories and feelings, and regret only that you can never read it again for the first time. But you’ll still read it again, of course.

I recall vividly, certain scenes from these books. An early one in the first book especially sticks with me; it is set by the pool in the sprawling backyard on a bright summer morning. Kendra and Seth, young siblings, are swimming when they notice a small assortment of tiny winged insects, abuzz with delight. Dragonflies and butterflies and hummingbirds are all gathered together, staring at a mirror by the pool. Kendra and Seth watch, befuddled by this strange action. Seth flips the mirror over to see if it is the mirror the creatures like, or their reflections. They seem to prefer their reflections.


This scene sticks with me because it is a foreshadowing of fairies, and also an early sign that the strange supernatural world of Fablehaven is all around them, and not another world separated from the mundane by dimensions or doorways. Plus, the innocent curiosity of the kids grounds them as likeable and engaging characters.

A sense of playfulness, combined with the thrill of discovery is perfectly captured by Brandon Mull in this series.

All the best fantasies create a sense of excitement through enthusiastic characters.

They also ground their fantastic elements in reality through realistic characteristics.

Seth is an 11 year old boy whose adventurous curiosity always supersedes his sense of obedience. Kendra is a teenage girl whose responsibility for her younger brother becomes a full time job when they realize they are in a wonderland of otherworldly mayhem, and that Seth is atwitter with the compulsion to investigate. She wants to go home. He wants to be free to do what he wants. Seth gets hungry. Kendra gets annoyed.

How to Blend Magic with Reality

By blending the real and commonplace with talking demons and flying dragons, readers are apt to forgive the unbelievable by suspending their unbelief so that they might enjoy the tale set before them.

Another thing I love about the Fablehaven series is the growing excitement with each book. The ratcheting suspense never lets up. You also get the sense that each book is building to a larger overarching storyline—and that is what makes good fantasies great. Five self-contained stories punctuated by hints of a grander design or force at work.

You couldn’t pay me to choose my favorite of the five books in the box set. They are all equally outstanding. The first is a great introduction to the world of Fablehaven; it doesn’t get overly ambitious and throw too much at us. It allows the story and fantastic elements to grow, slowly introducing bigger uncanny beings. We are even treated to glimpses of the larger plot, quick snippets of dialogue or passing references to some ultimate baddie. All serving to whet our appetite for more Fablehaven mayhem and magic.

Rate that Series

Out of 10 stars, I would give this series 9. Almost perfect. It has everything I could want in a fantasy series, except perhaps for a taste of adult situations, some more mature elements, like the kind you might find in Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. But that doesn’t matter much, because these books don’t call for it. My own Young Adult fantasy, W.A.N.D. incorporates similar elements, like the thrill of discovery and flawed, enthusiastic characters, with some hints at mature interests. Boy likes girl and fantasizes. Girl snubs boy and outsmarts him.

Brandon Mull’s writing is what I consider ‘non-distracting’ which simply means the author never intrudes with his agenda or tries to sound erudite by adding third-tier synonyms no one has ever heard before. Short sentences, realistic dialogue, and simple straightforward descriptive passages make for fast reads. It’s a lot like The Heroes of Olympus series, in writing style.

I highly recommend this series. Buy the books, and lose yourself for a few weeks in the strange, exciting, sometimes terrifying world of Fablehaven.

How to Discover the Genre of Your Manuscript

If you have written a few manuscripts, you know how confusing it can be to try and figure out exactly which genre or category your book falls under.

Knowing what genre you are writing in is especially important when listing it on Amazon or when submitting it to literary agents through a query letter.

Since agents disregard letters with descriptions like this one: ‘My book is a horror/mystery with elements of fantasy and a dash of romance, a la Twilight’, here are some tips by best-selling authors for discovering the genre of your book.

Genre-Discovering Tips

  • If you are unsure of the genre in which your book falls, check out ten books in each of several genres and read a page or two from each book. If you think you’re writing fantasy, check out ten fantasy books and read a page or two from each. Do you still think you’re writing fantasy?’ –Laura Whitcomb, Your First Novel
  • ‘Read not only the books in what you think might be your genre, but also read books outside your presumed genre.’ –John Grisham
  • ‘Think of which books and authors you admire. Think of which books you enjoy reading. Try letting your writing shape your target market instead and see what happens.’ –Catherine Ryan Hide, Writersdigest
  • Ask yourself, Who would be interested in this story? Who would buy it? Fans of which genre? –Logic

Decide Which Genre Your Book is (and dont try to make it fit into a different genre)

It is important to establish early on–while you write your outline–the genre of your tale; it will help you narrow down voice and atmosphere and identify the most important aspects to illuminate in that specific genre.

This is crucial, as different aspects are more prominent in certain genres. Consider: Character, setting, language/slang, level of sex and violence, pacing, etc. Understanding which aspects to elevate and which to underplay will make the genre appear more obvious and focused to whomever is reading your book.

For fantasy, include the Thrill of Discovery.

For mystery, employ elements of deception like an unreliable narrator, confusing crime scenes, and conflicting reports.

For  horror, infuse the tale with a heavy sense of dread and doom.

For Romance, don’t forget to highlight aromas and various tactile points of narration, to lend a physical sensation to every chapter.

For further help, you might do well to check out writerslife or this article by literary agent Rachelle Gardner.

God bless, and keep up the writing!