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Questioning my own originality

Discussion in 'World Building' started by JamesTFHS, Apr 3, 2012.

  1. JamesTFHS

    JamesTFHS Scribe

    So over the past 5 months i have been reading more then ever. i have also been working slowly on my novel as school and a short film kept me very busy over the last month. The biggest downside for me when i read i start to generate new ideas like the book has become a sort of fuel for my novel. now when i am reading i don't sit there and think i am going to steal everything written in this book i am reading i just daydream and suddenly realize i need to change a detail or two.

    now this is my problem i feel some of the changes i have made are too similar to what i have been reading and i would like someone else's opinion on this. I have deeply fallen in love with A Song of Ice and Fire and am now starting A Storm of Swords. while reading the first book i felt i needed to blur the line of good and evil from a black and white view to a more grey idea.

    That is not an issue i really like going in that direction versus a standard good versus evil story. some of the major changes i made was limiting magic from everyone can use it with no consequences to lots of limitations and a sort of physical "punishment" that comes with using magic. Such as becoming tired after doing a spell like in The Wheel of Time. i do push it a bit farther making Magic far more dangerous then i think other stories have done. You don't just get tired bones could suddenly break or a huge gash appears on your arm. is it too cliche to go with this idea?

    Also my map. My map went from being one huge continent in which almost all of my cultures live on to being two. This is the one that concerns me the most. to me it looks like i stole from Martin here. It might just be in my head but the change makes sense and allows me to do more with the final conflict and show the effects of that battle in a better way. Now the continents do look different then Martins and i did come up with an explanation to how the continents became the way they are. Another reason i went for a change in the continents was the controlling idea for the whole story changed with the shift from black and white to grey. i also needed to separate some of the cultures and give more room for everything and show more of a diversity.

    Does all this feel as if i am trying to mimic other writers and stories? And is it ok if a tiny similarity exists between your story and another but only if they are very subtle and not obvious like Paolini's?
    Dark Lord Thomas Pie likes this.
  2. Cinder

    Cinder Scribe

    Of course it's okay to be inspired by other writers.

    Concentrate on writing a story you love. When it's finished, the similarities between your novel and those you've been reading might only be subtle. If they're quite noticeable, change some things in the re-write/edit.

    It's really as simple as that. Don't be afraid to pinch a few ideas, just make sure you disguise them well.

    I once read a really good article on this subject, but I can't find it at the moment. If I do, I'll post it here :)

    EDIT: I found it! http://hollylisle.com/how-to-legally-and-ethically-steal-ideas/ - it's really good, read it well.
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2012
  3. Shockley

    Shockley Maester

    Martin, from what I've seen, has been fairly open about taking influences from history, mythology and fantasy as a whole. It's more likely that you're just drawing from the same sources as Martin did, especially if you've only recently read his work.

    More to the point, we're writing in a genre that is far younger than any other. While fairy stories are nothing new, the tropes and memes of fantasy all originated within the last hundred or so years, and that means we're going to have a lot of similarity in our works before the genre completes branching. Let me point out a few things that might make you feel better about any similarities:

    - In my current story, I embrace all forms of fantasy. One of my main characters is named Morhault, which is a direct reference to an Arthurian knight (Morholt, somtimes rendered Morhaus). I'd like to write a light, comedic fantasy story one day based around Sir Topas and Olifant, characters from the Canterbury Tales.

    - A shared favorite of Lewis and Tolkien was William Morris. One of Morris' characters was named Gandolf, and he wrote extensively about a horse named Silverfax. Another one of his characters was named King Peter. This isn't even the worst part of this - the Nibelung cycle is a Proto-German myth that shares a lot of characteristics with LotR (including a dragon with his horde, a magic ring, a broken sword (named Balmung, a word which has influenced more fantasy than most things) and a creature that is pursuing the main character (Alberich), which was cursed and corrupted by the treasure.

    - Suzanne Collins has been taking a lot of flak lately for 'ripping off' Battle Royale. This is ironic as, by her own admission, she was ripping off the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. This is a tradition of hers, as Gregor the Overlander was inspired by Alice in Wonderland (surprisingly).

    When we write any story, we are essentially telling a story that has already existed. It might not have existed in print or in that form, but we are just serving to take in all of this information that we have received and channeling it on to paper. Don't worry about similarities - that's to be expected.
    Dark Lord Thomas Pie likes this.
  4. Frankly if you didn't question your originality I would probably question your ability as a writer. I know how you feel though, I constantly feel I'm borrowing ideas from all over the place, and it gets disheartening, but I think in the creation process the nature of your writing will make it more "your own" simply because writers tend to be unique, even if ideas aren't.
    Dark Lord Thomas Pie likes this.
  5. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    Sometimes a complete ripoff can even be okay. Compare Hamlet and the Lion King.
  6. virtualmayham

    virtualmayham Dreamer

    Yeah, don't question your ideas. Of course your going to be influenced by things you've read, its how you've really learned to write fantasy! For example, my writing is HEAVILY influenced by Tolkien, and JK Rowling. Doesn't mean I don't have original ideas. Just flow with it. Just cause you see something doesn't mean your reader will. If it's to obvious, just re-write!
  7. Agran Velion

    Agran Velion Minstrel

    Your story actually sounds pretty original to me. The blurred line between good and evil isn't Martin's invention, although he was the one to use it the most (I was actually inspired by that as well). I wouldn't worry about being unoriginal, as every author gets inspirations and other ideas from the things he reads.

    In my current WIP, the majority of the story was inspired by the TV show The Borgias, and the culture borrows strongly from The Italian Renaissance. I was also inspired by Martin as well, and have more or less completely abandoned the whole "good versus evil" concept as I've tired of it. The main characters can be mean at best, and nearly demonic and cruel at worst.
    Dark Lord Thomas Pie likes this.
  8. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

    Sometimes worrying too much about similarities between your work and someone else's can stifle your creativity. Don't bother about it too much. Obviously you can't, say, take the plot of Star Wars point for point, cut/paste it into a fantasy setting, add dragons and LOTR tropes and call it a day. That would be hideously derivative, which is why nobody does it. But the similarities that you've described between your work and Martin's are not enough to qualify as "hideously derivative". On the contrary, I say embrace your influences. I keep a running list of all the books (and movies and shows) that have influenced my work. Keeping track of my influences serves three purposes:

    -It helps me to narrow down the kind of tone and feel I'm going for, which makes my work more consistent.
    -Being conscious of my influences helps me not to get too similar to my influences. It's ok if I do something one of my favorite authors did, but I have to make sure to do it my way.
    -Keeping track of my influences also gives me a handy list of comparable works to show someone when I start looking to get published.
  9. Ghost

    Ghost Inkling

    I find it helps to ignore new ideas. If the idea is any good, it will haunt you until you use it. When an idea stops being new and shiny, you might realize it wasn't great to begin with. Consider it a cooling off period. Just jot the idea down and move on.

    "Cliche" and "not original" aren't the same thing. So what if someone has done something similar? I haven't read WoT in a really long time, so I don't know how similar the magic is. People often put a price on magic, but I don't know that I've seen it go to the extreme yours does. I think it's interesting. Ultimately, your approach will be different from someone else's, anyway.

    I'm not much of a map person, so a lot of fantasy maps look similar to me. Unless you follow the contours of Martin's lands very closely, I doubt anyone will be bothered by it. Martin doesn't have the market cornered on two-continent worlds. He wasn't the first to do it, and he won't be the last.

    The more you write and the wider your influences, the less this will be a problem. It gets to the point that you have to tell your story without regard for who's done what before you. The story has to be yours. I don't mean you have to be the first to tell it, but it should mean something to you and you should tell as best you can. That's all.

    Every story has several things in common with thousands of other stories. Don't worry about it.

    Oh crap, I'm in trouble. :wink:
    topazfire likes this.
  10. Leif GS Notae

    Leif GS Notae Closed Account

    I know this solved it for me when I kept running into this stat. There are only 7 stories to be told, you are only telling the story in your voice the best way you know. If you accept this and do what needs to be done, you will do well with your efforts.

    I've always struggled with reading fantasy books, not for fear of copying but destroying the book mechanically to expose every flaw and boon inside.

    I think I might be broken, who knows...?

    Anyway, take heart. Write your story. Let others worry if it is "original", because it never is.
  11. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    You know what really sucks? Inventing a riveting story full of your own creative ideas you have spent tons of time figuring out the particulars of... only to see the exact same plot (or your witty lines) used on a rerun episode of Legend of the Seeker or Star Trek Deep Space 9. Damn. I've been mostly influenced by the events of my life.... but can even my experiences be wholly unique? Not a chance. So roll with it, and when you get done, go back and look at the details and ask people you trust for an in-depth critique. If you tell them of your fears, you will influence their opinions, so just let them read your work and see if anyone notices the connection to something else. That should give you your answers. I've had people critique my work and found out some of my names were similar to things I've never heard of, and knowing that allows me to change it later if I want something more unique.
  12. Ivan

    Ivan Minstrel

    Kurt Vonnegut once said that he ripped off Player Piano from Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, who ripped that off from Zamyatin's "We." All three are good books, and I don't think that anyone would say that the last two are worthless just because someone had the idea first. Do you think the very first guy to write a song about love got a patent on it, and nobody could touch it ever again? Of course not. There are always going to be similarities, often lots of them. For all that we cherish creativity and originality, at the same time we like certain patterns and plot methods and there's only so much you can do to get away from those.
  13. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Steal from the best. Make it your own. Write a great story. Let everyone else worry about the rest.

    As long as you're not writing a story about a simple farm boy name Duke Spacestroller who fights against the evil empire and Dirth Nader, you'll be fine.
  14. Rullenzar

    Rullenzar Troubadour

    It's inevitable that most ideas you think of have already been done in some way. Your job is to improve upon the ideas, make them your own, and present them differently then others before you. Another tactic is to read not just fantasy but horrors and mystery too so you can combine all the ideas together and make something fantastically interesting.
  15. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

    Our history professor showed us a tranlsation of an Ancient Egyptian papyrus. The person writing there was worried about the exact same thing. According to him, this was prove of the fact that Ancient Egypt was a culturally advanced society. :D
    Besides that, I don't have much to add to the stuff the others have been writing. Basic situations and things like "moral shades of grey" are not copyrighted by one author. Not everything that's been used before is cliche either. ;) Or else, one of the biggest cliches would be "the story has people in it and they're doing something."
    Something that does bother me is if an author exactly copies another author's view of a certain kind of mystical being, but even with this approach, many are successful enough. ;)
  16. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    I feel the same way sometimes, like everything I am writing has been done before. I realize in the most basic sense it already has, William Shakespeare wrote the basis for all of our modern fantasy, drama, romance and action stories and not much originality has come since then. If those tens or hundreds of thousands of writers have made money writing between then and now, anyone can and I just keep going forward 1000 words at a time.
  17. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    The author of Ecclesiastes said it best -- "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun." (1:9) Everything is derivative.
  18. Most of the tropes and story elements in Shakespeare's plays were already centuries or millennia old by that point. Shakespeare didn't invent much; he reused fantastically well. (And he had a killer prose style.)
  19. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    This is true. And I disagree that there hasn't been much originality since the 1600s. I think there has been a great deal of it, in fact. You may have some basic elements at the core of various stories, but there is a lot of room for originality in the layers that you build upon those base elements.
  20. kadenaz

    kadenaz Scribe

    Start from a main concept, don't start from a generic dreaming that will be surely influenced by all the books you read.

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