How to put a fresh spin on a well-known concept
As writers we often find ourselves in situations where every story has already been told, every concept has been used before, and in most cases it has been regurgitated countless times. So what do we do? We need to put a fresh spin on something well-known and bring uniqueness to it.
Today I’m going to illustrate how this can be done successfully. I have chosen the YA vampire fantasy novel and the example ‘Vampire Academy’ by Richelle Mead.
Warning spoiler alerts below
When I’ve first heard of ‘Vampire Academy’, I became immediately interested in it, but was worried that it will be more of the same vampire clichés. Since I’ve recently read the first three ‘A shade of vampire’ books, I chose to wait. However, when I finally picked up the novel I was pleasantly surprised.
While many vampire stories focus on the fight between humans vs. vampires or vampires vs. werewolves (less often other mythical creatures such as witches or fairies), Richelle Mead creates two species of vampires in her series, who are at war. The Moroi are living and mortal vampires. They yield elemental magic, but are not as strong as the Strigoi. The Strigoi are undead and immortal vampires, they kill huans and Moroi. All Strigois used to be Morois and turned Strigoi by killing a human on purpose during feeding.
It was refreshing to see vampires fighting vampires, rather than humans, often called hunters, who are avenging deceased, loved ones. But the concept twists of Richelle Mead didn’t stop there. While many vampire stories feature a love relationship between a human girl and a strong male vampire (Twilight, The Sookie Stackhouse novels, A shade of Vampire to name a few), where from the beginning the power shift in the relationship is unequal, ‘Vampire Academy’ features two love stories, where the women are just as strong as the men.
Even more exciting was the fact that the love story didn’t overshadow the whole book and determine every decision of the main female characters.
In fact the most important relationship is the friendship between Rose (a Dhampir) and Lissa (a royal Moroi). As a Dhampir, Rose is half vampire and a warrior tasked with protecting a chosen Moroi. Dhampirs protected Moroi from Strigoi willingly, since if Moroi become extinct, so will Dhampirs because they cannot procreate amongst themselves or with humans.
The story line follows Rose as she trains at the Academy to become a better protector for her friend Lissa, while Lissa has to navigate the social academy minefield and deal with the Moroi royalty cliques. All the while the antagonist lurks around, leaving dead animals to terrify Lissa. Rose and Lissa need to find out who wants to harm Lissa and why.
What pleasantly surprised me besides the plot and story concept was the use of the POV perspective. The book is written in first person and is only narrated through Rose’s eyes, but because she can tap into Lissa’s head, we get snippets of what is happening to Lissa as well. I thought this was a very clever way to get rid off the downsides of single 1st person POV, where an author is severely limited to only being able to describe what the protagonist sees and experience.
Recently I’ve noticed the trend for authors to either focus too much on the inner monologue of the main character (when the whole story is narrated by just one protagonist) or go the opposite direction, using 3+ separate POV perspectives, such as in ‘Truthwitch’ by Susan Dennard (it has 4 POV perspectives). Using more POV perspectives ensures that the reader receives a through understanding of the story and the events, which complex stories often need. However, the constant changes of narrator makes it hard to truly identify and feel empathy for the main character and their journey, since each time the reader begins to connect, he/she is ripped out of that particular POV in the next scene or chapter.
Thus, personally, I believe that a two-person POV perspective is ideal. The reader receives a more complete picture of the story and the unfolding events, while still spending enough time with each of the two characters, to truly understand their motives and plight. ‘Vampire Academy’ does that well, by having Rose narrate most of the story but also giving her the ability to get into Lissa’s head.
To summarize, as authors it is not our job to reinvent the wheel, but rather to search for themes and story lines that speak to us and then find new ways to tell the stories, whether that is by using unexpected universe rules, concepts or creative POV perspective shifts.