Litopia

We’re delighted you’re here! You’re just a few clicks away from joining the ‘net’s oldest community for writers… and certainly the friendliest. Click the “Register” button to create a free account. See you in the Colony!

  • Clichés & Tropes! Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em! Share your opinion in the latest Craft Chat, live now until Saturday

BrainPick Is Originality In Writing Overrated?

Fan Letters

D

News This came in the post today...

Status
Not open for further replies.
D

Deleted member 604

Guest
What do We, Readers, Writers and Agents really mean when they say your story is Original?

I was taught, well, told something a few years ago when I was studying and I have never forgotten it.
That alone says it all -

"Think of Originality in Writing and Storytelling not in the way you would build a house, but the way you would decorate it and make it your own."

Agree? Or Disagree?

I would love to know what Originality in Writing means to you, even you @AgentPete :)

And check out this article; worth a read -

 
Last edited by a moderator:

Paul Whybrow

Full Member
LV
0
 
There are only so many book plots in the world, depending upon which writing guru is pontificating at the time:

Three, six or 36: how many basic plots are there in all stories ever written?

As the saying goes, comparisons are odious, but it's inevitable they'll be made—and not always to the detriment of the new title—just think of the number of recently published novels that have stickers on the cover saying things like "Move over John Grisham, a new boy's in town."

In many circumstances, people don't much care if something is original. Just think of fan fiction, using characters from best-selling books to create fantastic spin-off tales, often of dubious quality, but which sell in their millions.

I had a strange moment last night, wondering if my destiny is preordained when it comes to critical reviews of my Cornish Detective series. I started writing them in 2014, with the protagonist being an independently wealthy copper who inherited money from his deceased parents and his wife's life insurance policy. He stays working as a policeman for the intellectual challenge and to restore order in society. I'm currently reading James Oswald's first title in a series about an Edinburgh detective, and have just come to a part where he's inherited millions from his grandmother, which makes him think of his deceased fiancé. Anyone who knows Oswald's work will think I've copied his hero's circumstances, but it's entirely coincidental!
 

KateESal

Full Member
LV
0
 
Agree. After all, Will Shakespeare is held up as one of the greatest English playwrights of all time, yet it's a fairly safe bet that none of his plots were originally his own ideas. How you tell a story is often a lot more important than the story itself. I think the aim is to add a convincingly fresh flavour to a classic plot line or trope.

It's probably why genre fiction tends to sell so well. Readers know roughly what to expect and that's a big part of what attracts them. No doubt @Carol Rose will have a view on this.

As a writer of children's fantasy, I acknowledge that I'm cherry picking inspiration from other texts, but hopefully I'm assembling them in such a way that my readers feel like they're on a journey of discovery.
 

Malaika

Basic
LV
0
 
I agree with all that's been said. I think the easiest way for me to understand what is original is to ask myself when I've felt that way about other books. For example I can think of books I love that were mostly unoriginal (though I can think of small concepts within them that were) like Eragon and Fablehaven . But another book about dragons that I just finished yesterday, His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik, felt totally fresh. If I think about that now I realize that it was the characters that stood out the most. They were very unexpected, especially for the genre. The story also had a lot of new ideas. The plot was nothing new of course and the writing style was interesting only because the voice of the MC was so great.
Some books really are original, for example, I'm thinking of Gone Girl. It feels like Gone Girl started an entire sub genre of thriller/crime.

I'm a big fan of romance genre. Because I love the genre I love all the tropes and I never mind a well written story about a boy who chases a girl and ooops falls in love with her. But Meg Cabot (author of The Princess Diaries and a lot of other beloved children's books) wrote my favorite romance novel. It is completely original, the characters abandon all genre tropes (or mostly all) and I freaking love that book. It is probably my favorite romance novel. Definitely top 5. (Btw it's called Educating Caroline).

I guess the place to start is to find all your cliches and turn them around. It can be something physical like Hester's horrific scarred face in Mortal Engines (oh yeah and the cities on wheels haha) or it could be the setting like a crime novel set in ancient greece (probably not feasible).
 

Carol Rose

Basic
LV
0
 
@KateESal , I think there's a difference in not being original with a plot idea, or a trope, and writing to genre expectations.

For example, in one of the recent Craft Chat posts we discussed the virginal heroine trope that continues to be popular in the romance genre, although it's finally now fading as society expectations have changed. But there is still an audience for those stories, so some romance writers continue to write stories in which their heroines are virgins when they meet the hero. Writing those kinds of stories would be considered writing to genre expectations of the readers.

Originality, I feel, is a different animal. There are, after all, only so many basic plots out there. The challenge is to put a new spin on it. Our individual voices are sometimes not enough. We need to continually find other ways to tell the same story, by putting the characters in different situations, for example, or giving them different backstories so they bring other baggage to the present day.
 

Malaika

Basic
LV
0
 
@KateESal ,
For example, in one of the recent Craft Chat posts we discussed the virginal heroine trope that continues to be popular in the romance genre, although it's finally now fading as society expectations have changed. But there is still an audience for those stories, so some romance writers continue to write stories in which their heroines are virgins when they meet the hero. Writing those kinds of stories would be considered writing to genre expectations of the readers.

Originality, I feel, is a different animal. There are, after all, only so many basic plots out there. The challenge is to put a new spin on it. Our individual voices are sometimes not enough. We need to continually find other ways to tell the same story, by putting the characters in different situations, for example, or giving them different backstories so they bring other baggage to the present day.

This is so funny because we posted at the same time and I said Educating Caroline was "totally original" and "abandons all tropes" but the heroine was in fact virginal so I perjured myself!
 

Susan

Basic
LV
0
 
What a coincidence this thread is, and @KateESal’s post. I just read the following yesterday in a book called Jason and the Argonauts Through the Ages (Jason Colavito):

‘Much of what we think of as Greek mythology has been adapted ... This does nothing to diminish the Greeks’ originality or inventiveness, any more than it harms Shakespeare to note that his Hamlet derived from a medieval legend. The source is not the invention; it is what the artist does with it that marks a work of genius.’

Quite right!
 

RK Capps

Full Member
LV
2
 
Awards
1
Educating Caroline

Sounds right up my alley, it's added to my 'want to read list,' thanks!

Totally agree. Although screenwriting is a different art form, this truth applies equally to novels. Blake Synder (who has worked with Steven Spielburg), quotes a studio exec saying this:

“Give me the same thing… only different!”

Snyder, Blake. Save the Cat (p. 21). Michael Wiese Productions. Kindle Edition.

Once I embraced the structure of a book (to take @RainbowNerdAlix's analogy, say, the framework) and began to 'decorate', did my work begin to deepen.
 

Tim James

Basic
LV
0
 
So long as you make the story-line/plot/characters different enough to "make it your own" then it is still "original."
Let's face it, variations of the Cinderella rags-to-riches story-line have been made hundreds, perhaps thousands of times in books and films and the market for them does not seem too much diminished yet.
Some basic plots are eternal and will keep resurfacing in new literature, written it a slightly or wholly different way. As @RainbowNerdAlix says, it's not necessarily the basic structure that stands out as original, it's the finished product.
 

Dan Payne

Full Member
LV
0
 
From my understanding, originality in fiction can be actively discouraged. We're all focused on working out what kind of first lines/pages/chapters will work to engage our reader and sell our work to a publisher. We spend inordinate amounts of time discussing genre expectations and current accepted Points of View in prose and whether our characters are sympathetic enough. Then when we finally have a work ready to sell, we're told that our query letter needs some variant of "This book is similar to [insert author/book title here] and [also here]". If we can't compare it to something that already exists, it might not have a convenient place on a shelf and it probably won't find a buyer.

So long as you follow the rules, appropriately apply the Hero's Journey to your MC and can list several other published books that feel/read sort of the same as yours, you should be good. But make sure you're original or you'll run the risk of people thinking your work is derivative. :)

On a re-read, that all sounds very cynical. Perhaps I should say that all successful fiction depends on a mix of previous works, and the key to avoiding being derivative is to make sure you pick combinations that haven't been done to death previously. In this respect, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies may be amongst the more original works out there.

(BTW I think it should be a law that all comments posted on the internet require a re-read before you can hit the 'submit' button. :cool: )
 
Status
Not open for further replies.

Fan Letters

D

News This came in the post today...

Top