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Questioning my own originality

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

  1. I would say that most of the room for originality is reinterpreting old story elements in light of cultural/historical developments. The Social Network is a wonderfully original movie, even though the themes it deals with (ambition, betrayal, desire for acceptance) are as old as time, because it manages to so perfectly mirror our perceptions of the events depicted.
  2. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    Yeah, I think the elements are established, and it will be hard to create a story that doesn't, at its most basic level, consist of elements that have been used in the past repeatedly. But as you say there is a lot of room for originality in how one presents those elements. In Fantasy, I think that extends to a lot of the details of world-building, magic systems, and the like, where you can have a lot of room for original input, even though the themes you are dealing with in your story are timeless.
  3. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

    Been there! After spending a year writing a story which, in part, involves the MC going back in time and meeting his future wife during her childhood, I thought I did something really cute that hadn't been done. The characters had this brother-sister-like relationship, and I was proud of how original I was with that piece of the story.

    Then "The Time Traveler's Wife" became famous.

    I stopped worrying about "originality" after that. Good lesson for me!
  4. The other thing I always try to remind myself of is that most readers haven't read and seen everything. So what if your story has a similar plot to a previous book? As long as it's not outright plagiarism, people will enjoy reading it, and you usually have the advantage that your writing style can be more current and therefore more palatable stylistically. I'm rereading Pride and Prejudice now; it draws the characters wonderfully, but the prose takes a lot of work for me to parse. I'd probably enjoy the story a lot more if it was written in a prose style that's easier for me to read. (I do realize that some of the love of the book is because of its prose style, but eventually a line has to be drawn between preserving the author's words, and making the story intelligible. If it's a colossal amount of work to get through, is that really better than having the character and story preserved but the words more accessible?)

    For most writers, I don't think the goal is to be utterly original; I think the goal is to write something that a substantial number of people enjoy reading. If that's the goal, then trying to be utterly original isn't even on the radar. Not everything people read has to be a life-changing book; people need periodic infusions of entertainment, even if it's something they've more or less read before. Nobody would expect every meal to consist of things you've never eaten before, nor is it reasonable to expect that all entertainment is completely new.
  5. Lorna

    Lorna Inkling

    I've found the more I read I find likenesses of ideas that I thought were 'original' in nearly every book. I guess there's only a fixed number of ideas / structures out there, it's how they're put together into a new and exciting whole that constitutes the originality.
  6. S J Lee

    S J Lee Sage

    Pablo Picasso is often quoted as saying: “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”
    Eddie Van Halen once said "There are only 13 notes, everything has been done before, but your style is your own"... or something
    It would be a mistake to avoid reading widely because you were afraid of being influenced
    On the other hand, many publishers / directors etc might refuse to look at unsolicited scripts because they are terrified of being accused later of stealing something......

    It would be better to read both good and bad books... understand WHY a bad book is bad, and why a good book is good... avoid the mistakes of the bad, and be influenced by good ones that suit you. Then make sure you have changed enough to avoid infringements of copyright.....

    avoid cliche, but use archtypes.....

    EG, why not write like a bit like GRRM, but BE BETTER than him? Me, I am writing something like his, but simpler, and far more unashamedly heroic... me, I feel GRRM is onto something with his POV and chapter naming system, and the way people get killed off.... however, his cynicism annoys me a bit... cynicism with insight is good, cynicism for its own sake is not... and his world-building isn't very well thought out. How on earth are the Ironmen a great naval power when their islands are too small for proper forests? Why didn't the Targaryens disarm the private armies of the other lords? For hundreds of years, the Ts had supremacy, but they let their dragons die out and suddenly all the local knights feel no loyalty at all to the "king", but to the local warlords... completely unrealistic compared to REAL English history.. eg Henry VII beat Richard III because the private army of the Stanleys changed sides.... could you imagine someone like the Stanleys deciding the fate of England in Elizabeth I's day, just two generations later? I think not....

    Be influenced, and be BETTER!
  7. S J Lee

    S J Lee Sage

    AS for the OP point that "the magic of books seems to die a bit when you learn to analyse things and understand HOW books are written", this is both a blessing and a curse.... but it is better to be an aware being than not....

    Ignorance is bliss... but is bliss a higher good than contemplation and awareness? Would you rather be a drunken fool having a good time, or a genius who refuses to be soothed with alcohol to shut him up?

    Do rainbows and thunder and lightning seem less magnificent if you are an educated person who knows they are not magical? Does music seem boring to a trained musician who sees the resemblances with 1000s of similar songs? Does a chef enjoy food less when he takes one bite and immediately knows how the soup was made, and how much it cost? There is no easy answer.....

    Lots of people hated GOT on HBO S 8..... saying it was mere spectacle and all inner consistency and plausibility was thrown away... people hated it, and they were probably right. Or you could just eat your popcorn and enjoy the show. It's up to you. But would they have been better off if they had been so ignorant as to not even notice? No, they would not....

    IF you saw Euron washed up on the beach JUST as Jamie was sneaking into the secret tunnel, you could either A) go with the drama and enjoy it, or B) say this is an utterly ridiculous coincidence... a really good writer would SEE the coincidence and FIX IT... there are 1000 ways to explain it, but if you cannot even see the problem your work will always be inferior....

    The more insight you have, the more room for a meaningful variation you have.....

    I think it was Grant Morrison who said that he had a huge collection of "1970s heroes in Spandex comics" and one day he realised that they were all written by guys not as smart as himself, sitting in a room and sniggering as they came up with cliffhangers to make fools keep on buying them... he tore them all into pieces until he had shreds up to his ankles, and swore to write comics as they SHOULD be done.....

    You can either consume the product or be like Gail Simone and her "women in refrigerators" insights... she might not be "right" or "better",but at least she won't blindly copy tropes... at the cost of not settling for what is regurgitated in front of her.... there is no easy answer!
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2020
  8. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling

    Any fool can cook a steak. The difference between a fool and a master chef is what they do with the steak. The unique blends of flavors from an assortment of spices, herbs and whatever other ingredients the master chef uses make a huge difference between meh and a culinary orgasm.

    Think of the steak as the genre, the cooking process as the writing of the basic fantasy tropes and the ingredients that you add to the steak to make it taste mind-blowingly amazing as the elements of the story that you contribute that separates it from what others are doing.

    Sometimes adding your own twist to the steak may make people sick just as taking a risk by adding your own unique twist to your writing might go down badly with readers. The point is to feel the fears and doubts about whether you may be following the masters of the genre too closely or not being original enough, get on with writing that story and, when it's complete, see what you've come up with. You many be surprised at what you've cooked up.
  9. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    This thread is from eight years ago. I don’t think OP even uses this forum anymore.

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