The last time my children’s writing critique group met, we discussed how important it is to read the wonderful children’s books out there. Except that we don’t always do what we know we should do. But hey! We’re writers! So we can come up with really creative excuses!
Excuse #1: I’m afraid I’ll inadvertently steal something from what I’ve read.
Honestly, you might pick up a funny expression that you’ve read somewhere and have your character say it. But chances are very good that the phrase is not that uncommon, anyway. A really, truly, fantastically unique expression, or idea, for that matter, will lodge in your brain and you won’t accidentally throw it into your book. And if you do, you won’t be able to sell your book.
Excuse #2: I’m afraid I’ll find a book out there exactly like mine!
Yikes! What if you do find a book exactly like the one you’re writing? Wouldn’t you rather know then spend tons of hours more, working on your book, only to have an agent or editor tell you later that the exact same book came out five years ago?
Okay, honestly, the chances of finding the same exact book are pretty astronomical. Finding the same plot? Maybe not so much. Because what’s a good story if not the same, basic plot? A main character comes along, wanting something. Obstacles come along, keeping your poor main character from getting what he/she/it wants. But eventually, the situation is resolved.
It’s the details that make a story a best-seller. So maybe you’ve written a typical Romeo and Juliette kind of story. Except your Romeo is a gigantic purple toothbrush with 14 eyes. And Juliette is a diminutive tube of toothpaste with a fetching smile. And there’s a whole bathroom full of health and beauty products trying to keep the two er, lovers apart. So maybe that plot’s been done to death (no pun intended). But your story has a fresh and unique cast of characters with a totally clean setting.
I don’t think you’ll find another story like that. But if you do find a book with a giant purple toothbrush main character, then yeah. You’re going to have start over again. Read anyway. Your writing will improve. And maybe someone will pick up your book and say, “Shazam! I can’t believe someone’s already written a book about a giant pine tree falling for a chainsaw!”
Star-crossed lovers. Chokes me up everytime.
(Here’s a post from one of my critique partners where she lists some of the books folks were buzzing about at the Wik 2010 conference. So no more excuses. Find a good book and read!)