blog The Quest for Originality

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Black Dragon, Jul 15, 2018.

  1. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Svrtnsse submitted a new blog post:

    The Quest for Originality
    by Nils Ödlund
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    Have you ever had a really awesome idea for a story? Have you ever given up on this idea because it seemed too similar to something else, or because someone said it was just like that other story they read – or movie they saw, or whatever?

    If you haven't, you're probably an exception.

    Chances are you forgot it happened, because it was a really long time ago, before you'd even started writing. It happens to us all.

    The Seeds of Stories

    We all want to be original, and we want to bring something of our own to the table. The difference between us is what we want to bring – what's important to us. Some of us want to explore deep emotional themes. Some of us want to provide a momentary escape from the drudgeries of everyday life. Some of us want to tell a new and original story that no one ever read the likes of before.

    This last bit, creating a new and original story, is arguably the most difficult one.

    There are those who say that everyone has a story in them, and there are those who say there are only three different stories (man vs man, man vs self, and man vs nature). In their own ways, they're both right. It's a matter of perspective.

    What I'm getting at is that with the amount of stories that are written, it's nigh impossible to come up with a new idea. Even with a very small circle of friends, it's difficult to create a story concept that doesn't...
    Continue reading the Original Blog Post.
     
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  2. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Lore Master

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    Every so often a gem seems to appear like 'Jurassic park' people had written about dinos for years but having ones re-created and not go back in time or stumble across some island hiding them. It wasn't a massive original idea, just that little bit made it different. I liked the themes too they added to he story. The greed and arrogance of humans.

    I think some of the best stories are twists of ones that all ready exist. Like how many ghost stories were there before the sixth sense? How how many covered it from a ghost's perspective?

    I honest;y don't kniw if it's impossible to be totally original or not but there's nothing stopping anyone from doing a surprising twist on a worn out tale.
     
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  3. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Indeed.
    The power our expectations have over us is really strong. When we read a story we expect certain things to happen - especially if it's a story of a type we're familiar with. When the story then takes a different turn and throws us off the track it's either a delightful or an unpleasant experience, and somtimes both - depending on how it's handled by the writer.
     
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  4. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I should add though, that putting an unexpected twist on a traditional story is far from the only way of making a story good. It's also not guaranteed to make the story great - but I guess that's obvious. ;)
     
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  5. Orc Knight

    Orc Knight Grandmaster

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    What about you? How do you feel about ideas? They're just that. Idea's to possibly be used.

    Do you worry about your ideas being cheesy or tacky or cliché? How do you cope with that? No more. Though it didn't take me too long to get over it. I work with the cheesy, occasionally tacky and most definitely the cliche. My favorite thing to work with, if only to twist it.

    What’s the worst idea you’ve had that you’ve turned into a story? Not sure. Seeing as I've turned the original Three Little Pigs story into a mythological story for Eld. Twisting fairy tales is kind of what I like to do.
     
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  6. FifthView

    FifthView Istari

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    I swear I've heard all that before. Hmmm....

    When the night has been too lonely and the road has been too long
    And you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong
    Just remember in the winter, far beneath the bitter snows
    Lies the seed, that with the sun's love in the spring becomes the rose...


    OH, yeah, hah.

    Anyway, the question of originality is weird to handle, mostly because originality is obviously a sticking point or may become one for everyone. I know that I'm often pursued by the demon called Quest for Originality. It's a demon in pursuit, because I don't think I strongly pursue originality myself; my process in more like: Come up with an idea or several, then fear that the demon might appear and slug me upside the head with his fist while howling, "Not original!"

    I find that the strongest fears of lack of originality in new writers generally circle those meta areas, things like story type and plot synopsis (or what we might see in a log line.) These are the grand, overarching archetypes. Someone will say, "Ah, but that's just another boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-regains-girl story!"

    But this is odd precisely because those archetypes are archetypes. They are meant to describe—capture?—a wide swath of stories in a general, expansive way. Archetyping is by nature antithetical to discerning originality; everything captured in its net is, by definition, merely a copy.

    The notion of having one's own grand, overarching Idea for a story...is hardly different. The attempt to make a story circle that Idea, so that everything within the story revolves around that Idea, supporting that Idea while gaining strength from that Idea, is pretty much an attempt to Archetype one's own story. The fear that one's personal Archetype for the story might turn out to be nothing more than a universal Archetype describing many stories—this is what terrifies many beginning writers.

    My personal fears of that Quest for Originality demon arriving to slap me down circle other things than these grand archetypes—but are probably related to that other sort of archetyping, just on a smaller scale. Is the scene I've just written, the MC's predicament and solution to that predicament...merely a reiteration of a thousand other scenes in a thousand other stories, just with the names changed? This is the sort of fear that frequently strikes me in my soft areas. I now think these are merely a different sort of archetyping. The Escape-archetype. The Character-Reaction-to-a-Particular-Dilemma archetype. And so on and on.

    Sometimes it's the fear that my personal Character archetype—say, that nifty form of magic use and the consequences of that use for my particular MC—is just a copy of something else. I mean: I don't consciously copy from others; but my conscious mind can be pretty ignorant, heh.
     
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  7. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    Awesome article, Nils. I'm glad you wrote about this topic. Too many writers worry about their work being cliche but the reality is that everything has already been done before, and tropes are *not* cliches. Originality comes from our voice and life experiences/perception/views that no one else has except us. One simple idea (boy or girl saves world against dragon attack) can be taken and spun a myriad of ways by different writers enough to not be the same exact story. That's what newer writers would benefit in understanding: YOU and you voice is what makes a basic idea unique.
     
  8. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I think this is a great analogy.

    I don't encounter it much in my writing, but it's a real issue for me when it comes to my music. I put together mix-set as a hobby and I try to be creative and do my own thing, but I'm a lot less confident about what I'm doing there, than when it comes to my writing. I'm not very knowledgeable about music, sound engineering, or anything like that, and I don't keep up with what anyone but me is doing. I take some pride in the music I select for my sets, and I constantly worry that someone will point out that some track is the wrong genre, or that it's too cheesy, or that a voice sample used is offensive.
    Explaining it like this, it sounds really silly, and it is, but I still worry about it. It's the demon you're talking about and it wants to cheese my music.
    The same thing doesn't quite happen with my writing, as I'm much more confident with what I'm doing there.
     
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  9. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I think there's this idea in our society these days that originality is desirable just for its own sake. Originality is a high form of praise, and it's lauded and sought after. It's the kind of praise given to highly respected forms of art, so of course it's something you have to strive for, right?

    It's easy to forget that it's not enough just to be original. it also has to be good - ideally amazing. :p
     
  10. FifthView

    FifthView Istari

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    You jumped in front of me, heh, since I was about to wonder (by commenting) about this desire for originality and why it is so strong—or whether it should exist at all.

    Even the pursuing demon image is not original. I no doubt borrowed from, or was influenced by, Poe's poem "Alone," heh. In fact, I'm sure that poem relates to the present topic very well.

    I suppose the need for recognition is strong behind the desire to be perceived as original and the corresponding fear of appearing as only a mere copy, a number of the one-thousand or ten-thousand who have written much the same thing before. I mean, there's that niggling thought that, if I add nothing new whatsoever, then what's the purpose of my bothering with this messy and often-tedious process of writing? Heh.

    If writing were a purely hedonistic pursuit for me, similar to the way I'll design and orchestrate the creation of my own dinner in the kitchen, it'd be much simpler. When I'm cooking for myself, I can let myself do whatever I like; I know what I want, and I'm utterly free to design it to meet that need.

    But it's not a hedonistic pursuit for me. This is too bad. My output would go up tremendously if it were.
     
  11. Dark Squiggle

    Dark Squiggle Lore Master

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  12. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    It sounds like a difficult spot to be in. Maybe once you'll get started, something will show up that'll set you on down a new path, or maybe an old path in the opposite direction. :)
    Best of luck with it.
     
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  13. Thoras

    Thoras Master

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    Great article, really pinpointing what perhaps all of us feel at times. I've scratched a bunch of ideas earlier because of this - eventually you realize that with that mindset, "everything has already been written, so what is the point?", there shouldn't be any stories left to write, yet still authors produce a bunch of new books every year which feels unique.

    This is something I might have to re-read a couple of times along the way, great stuff.
     
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  14. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Happy to hear it. Glad you like it. :)
     
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  15. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Master

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    Some of the most successful authors have written books that are largely formula driven, cliche riddled and unoriginal. What separated them from most of the other formula driven, cliche riddled and unoriginal stuff churned out time after time was they added a few twists. The Harry Potter series took a genre of fiction that was all but dead - the British boarding school genre - and tossed in some magic and other fantasy elements and J K Rowling is now so rich from her book sales and the movies that were based on her books she could buy a small country.

    The mistake that is often made is that people get so caught up with trying to be original that they forget the primary role of a writer is to be a storyteller. Whether you write an epic fantasy or political propaganda (which is my bread and butter writing) the primary function of a writer is to tell a story that people will remember. It doesn't matter if the story is unoriginal. What matters is that the story is told in such a way that people both enjoy it and never forget it.
     
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  16. FifthView

    FifthView Istari

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    I really like this highlighting of memory. Now I'm inspired to wonder what makes something memorable—so that it doesn't fade into the mishmash of so much else one might have experienced.

    I think that question's really key to answering the question, Originality?

    But this "told in such a way" may be the original addition in the story.
     
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