Today’s book for writing tips is The City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. This book is young adult fantasy, but it isn’t overdone. It isn’t some kind of repeat of every vampire love story or magic school. Honestly, the story captivated me from the beginning and I loved the development of the characters and world.
I actually am kind of obsessed with this series. I can relate to the characters and the plot twists are surprising. Even if I see one coming, it still finds a way to surprise me.
The City of Bones takes place in modern day NYC, where there is a whole other world behind what we see as normal. Shadow hunters, who hunt and kill demons, can’t be seen by the mortal eye. Clary is the main character, a teenager living with her mom, and soon enough she begins to see the shadow hunters, discovering that her memories were tampered with and that her entire past is part of this other world. Her mother is taken by someone who is feared more than anything in this world, and she joins the shadow hunters to get her back and defeat this dangerous guy–Valentine. And he is a huge part of Clary’s past, too.
That description doesn’t do this book justice. In fact, it really doesn’t even capture the greatest parts of the book. I’d recommend going to the links I leave at the bottom to see the actual description.
There are a few really great things from this book that would work great with other stories. First of all, this book takes everything that we’ve known in fantasy (werewolves, warlocks, vampires, fairies, demons, etc.) and pulls them into one world that has something completely unheard of in it. Clare creates a world that is all too familiar, but centers around a new kind of story, the Shadow Hunters. These demon-hunters have their own story, their own place in the world, and coexist with all of the other mythical creatures we’ve known before.
It isn’t cliche.
When you look at your story, do you see it as something in every book like it. Is it a vampire love story? Is it the overdone idea of a school for magic? This may have worked out well for world-wide hits like Twilight and Harry Potter, but unless there is something distinctly different about it, then it isn’t unique to you. With The City of Bones, all of those overdone stories weren’t rejected, just modified to fit in with something new and different. Something unique.
My second tip from this book is to have a complex backstory. This works even better with books that are part of a series. More books means more time to explain the most complicated of backstories. With this series, there is a bomb dropped at the end of book one that you begin to question in book three. The back story keeps twisting and turning because it means so much to the present story.
So if you have a backstory, then make sure it is important to the present. And you’re backstory doesn’t have to be complicated, but think more about how you want to tell it, if maybe you want to mislead the reader at first. Or if you want to make it more complicated that can lead to more obstacles for your characters to overcome that aren’t in the immediate present. Or maybe obstacles can arise from other characters/events in the backstory coming back.
Finally, the last one has to do with character development. This is something that I liked about this book. Clary and a shadow hunter named Jace didn’t know each other before the first book, but their backstories have everything to do with each other. It’s something that brings them closer together while also building up who they are and their personalities. One thing I’m finding in my writing is that the only way to really characterize is to write more about that character. To keep getting to know them so that your reader can too. And what better way to write more than to add in their part of the backstory?
So my challenge for you is to use some of these tips from The City of Bones in your own story. Look at your story. Is there something that has been done so many times before that is a huge part of your writing? Not to say that this is a bad thing, but if you want what you are writing to be unique, try adding to it. Change it or make it a smaller part of the story. If you like this cliche, or just writing it, then by all means, write it. Writing doesn’t have to be about making things unique or coming up with something completely new.
Writing should make you happy. Don’t try to make your story appeal to others. If you are going to sell it, and you want your readers to like it, think about that later. Change it later. It should make you happy first. And don’t write something you don’t like, just for everyone else. That’s just as bad.
Look at the backstory behind your plot. Is it too complicated? Is it not complicated enough? Does it matter to what is happening in the present? What can you use the backstory for in the present to throw in a curve ball?
Finally, look at how your characters knew or were connected to each other in the backstory. They don’t have to even know each other before the present day story for you to have their backstories connected. Maybe they only saw each other once, but maybe that one time was powerful. Maybe they knew each other like the backs of their hands. Maybe they are just meeting now. Think about the way this changes the present day story and what good and bad things can come from it.
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Thank you for reading, and don’t stop writing!