1. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Let's openly discuss originality.

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by The Tourist, May 6, 2012.

    Several times over the past few weeks I have addressed 'originality' as an element of our craft. Without fail, someone always adds a post about "crushing individuality." I think the concept of originality ought to be discussed as a separate, stand-alone topic in reading, and then offering a critique to define a better story.

    You know my position. I'd like to hear yours.
     
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  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Originality is in the details. The overall storylines have all been written, many times over.

    Originality arises from your individual experiences and mastery of language. Originality arises through the characters you shape, which are projections of your own self, filtered through your observations of others.

    Originality is less about what you say, but how you say it, how you paint the scene for your reader. Do you write in a dark, richly layered and glazed chiaroscuro, or is your style more of a brightly abstract impressionism? Your choice of subject matter and setting is part of your expression, even if you are painting your own interpretation of an oft visited tourist attraction.

    That is why I am so insistent that the storyline you begin with is unimportant. You won't please everyone, no matter what you choose. But whatever you choose, you will put yourself into, and therein lies originality.

    Is it impossible to come up with something completely new? No. But if you won't begin until you come up with this unique notion, you'll never write a damned thing. So pragmatically, assume that what you write will not be unique, Not in the broad strokes. On the other hand, your completed submission is unique, unless you have willfully plagiarized someone else's work.
     
  3. Erato
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    Erato Contributing Member

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    Another thread on originality?

    I second Cogito here.
     
  4. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    'It’s no more use trying to be traditional than it is trying to be original. Nobody invents very much, but there is one thing to be said for contemporary poetry that can’t be said in favour of any other, and that is that it is written by our contemporaries.' - T.S. Eliot.
     
  5. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Well, not solely originality, but more of the concept of openly stating it as part of a critique or answer in a post. We're acting too much like politically correct nannies in trying to be honest but not hurt anyone's feelings.

    I wonder if we're providing useable and honest information.

    In fact, my honest opinion is that anyone who complains about originality secretly harbors thoughts about his own work. Let's face it, the best way to get your butt kicked in a saloon is to question someone's bravery. A secure guy will laugh in your face and recommend you seek an exit.

    Closer to home, my wife is working on a children's book. A few days ago she found a similar book at B&N, and she worried. My comment was about her honesty. With a touch of humor I told her to make her main characters zombies and get the book published anyway.

    Drek is drek, and I'm tired of tiptoeing around the issue. To be fair, the floor is now yours. Comment, flame, lock the thread. But I've finally and openly addressed a very real problem. My critiques from now on go only two ways. You'll hear from me if your story is good. Others won't hear from me at all. I left it all here in this thread.
     
  6. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I agree that originality should not be the main thing in a critique. It should be an extra joy, rather than an objective for a writer. To worry too much over originality can make you think yourself into a personal hell.
     
  7. Dryriver
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    Dryriver Senior Member

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    In my humble opinion, originality can make or break a great work of literature, especially in today's crowded literary market. The Hunger games didn't make the top spot on Amazon Bestsellers because it features the most brilliant writing or the most ingenious storytelling in the world. It made the top spot because its premise is pretty original - There are 12 impoverished Districts controlled by the wealthy Capitol. The Capitol draws 2 Tributes - a boy and a girl - from each District each year, and makes them fight to death in an Arena. Yes, the premise is a little bit like "Battle Royale". But only "a little bit". The overall originality of Suzanne Collins' narrative - which doesn't fit any particular genre - earned her the top spot on the bestseller lists, and now all 3 books are being made into a movie trilogy. Win, win, win. It was overall originality that made this happen.

    Same for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It was sufficiently different in premise from other crime/sleuthing novels that the trilogy became a worldwide phenomenon.


    If you ask me, originality of plot/premise/presentation is THE most important trait a novel can have these days.

    There are hundreds of professional writers out there who can write well and carry a narrative.

    But maybe only a dozen or so who can write a totally original story.

    The late Michael Crichton was good at doing originality. His novels were very distinct, conceptually, from what had been written before. Nobody picked up Jurrassic Park and said "The story was so unoriginal". It was original. He was the first to do it. He won as a result.


    Yes, creating good characters is necessary. And yes, good plotting and pacing are necessary.

    But if what you are creating isn't original in a good sense, then it is likely to become something "forgettable".


    I personally vote that originality of story & characters is the single most important factor determining whether a piece of writing will be widely read, or whether it will be forgotten soon after it is published.


    Originality all the way! At least that's my 2 cents on the issue.
     
  8. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with Cogito and others here. Originality is not in the overall idea (there are no new ideas and all that), but in how you present it. I don't care what genre you pick, there will be writers who do nothing more than regurgitate what other writers have already done - and there will be writers who pick up the idea and run the table. The idea is not drek - the presentation is. Some writers can learn - others can't or won't. I don't write anyone off until I've at least given them a shot ;)
     
  9. Man in the Box
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    Man in the Box Active Member

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    The Tourist I'm so glad you've opened this topic! This is my biggest issue when it comes to writing. I have ideas, but I borrow a little from here and there and I don't know if I'm doing something correct. For example, my characters have powers similar to existing characters and, even though I add my own spin to them, I don't know if what I do could be considered copying and I get a bad review because of it.
     
  10. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think this is largely a matter of inspiration. An inspired man draws up his ideas from god knows where. They may or may not parallel other works, but if they do so, it is not intentional. Maybe some other work spurred him to write an idea and he doesn't even realize it. In that case, I would like to think that that source affected him on a deeply profound level. In that case, probably his creation will come off as very unique but the source of inspiration simply drove him to come up with his own unique ideas.

    With that being said, if you watch a movie or read a book, and say "WOW, that **** is bad***!!!!!". I want to do the same!!!" and then you start tweaking the plot to make it different. You're sitting there, thinking, how can I write a [insert popular sub genre] without looking like I copied [insert popular author of popular sub genre]? You're coming onto forums asking for advice on how you can be different. Well, I have to say that's something entirely different.

    Some people are just creative. They can't help it. They don't follow rules (for better or worse). They come up with their own stuff and they don't CARE if it appears similar to something else or not, because the idea was entirely conceived within their own mind. Or, maybe they'll see something else, hate it, and say "I could do better" and then proceed to write something similar only to prove they could do the better job. These people are innovators.

    Then you have people who say "If it aint broken, don't fix it." They don't want to come up with something new. They see a cake already baked and they want a piece of it too. So they try to reproduce it without outright stealing it, hence the blatant concern for not looking like copiers. These people are copiers.

    You see both types of people everywhere. You see it in fashion, in music, in science, and I'm even willing to bet in sports. I'm not judging either type of person. A copier might produce a better work than an innovator. Maybe the innovator's idea was just bad, or he had trouble presenting it well. If someone's work is similar to another's, I'm not going to write it off as necessarily bad.

    But yes, originality definitely exists, if only relatively. Jules Verne and H.G Wells are definitely, definitely, more original than let's say, the author of Eragon.
     
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  11. Kaymindless
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    Kaymindless Contributing Member

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    This.

    Here's the thing for me. If we focus too much on being original nothing is going to get done. It's great if you can, but just because its something you've seen a million times doesn't meant anything. Because as long as you aren't managing to copy every slight detail from something, it's yours.

    And by now, I know that poor The Tourist does not like vampires, zombies, werewolves and half a dozen things, but hey, so you have zombie werewolves from a virus, do your thing. Write what's in your head, and it's yours and original.
     
  12. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    But this is just the point. Michael Crichton was NOT original. Jurassic Park is NOT original. It was a story about a group of people being menaced by monsters - something that had been done many, many times before Crichton wrote that book. Look at Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, in which people are menaced also by dinosaurs. That was published in 1912, decades before Crichton. What Crichton did was add the element of having humans create the dinosaurs - humans create the monsters that turn around and menace them. That goes back to Frankenstein, and even the ancient story of the Golem. Crichton simply adapted old ideas into the modern world. He took the "humans menaced by dinosaurs" bit and combined it with the "humans created the monsters who are menacing them" into the same story. Bolting a bit of this old story onto a bit of that old story doesn't make it original.

    This is, I think, what Cogito and others have been talking about. True originality is nearly impossible in fiction, at least as far as plot goes. Your own voice is your originality. You will almost always write a story that bears some similarity to some older story, but that's okay. You write it differently. You have different concerns and different themes; you're just using the same plot thread.
     
  13. PeterC
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    PeterC Active Member

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    I'd rather not know if my WIP is similar to some other work because if it is that would just depress me. Instead I'll just happily forge ahead with my story and not worry about how original it is or isn't. That's been my approach.
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, but the Hunger Games premise is not really original. Gladiators in an arena is an old idea. Human sacrifice is an old idea. Making that sacrifice a child is an old idea. The sacrifice being by lottery is an old idea. The poor going through a life-threatening adventure to escape their poverty is an old idea. The underlying ideas are not original, it's the execution that's original. In fact, I'd say that the themes are _so_ "unoriginal" that they're core concepts in the mythology of human society, and that's (part of) why the book is a success.
     
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  15. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That's an interesting thought. Now, I'm in agreement with Cog and others on this thread - the overall story or underlying values your book explores are probably not original, and never will be - but the execution, the characters, the way you write it can be original. I think people worry too much about being original - just write the damn thing. Who really cares!? If you enjoyed it, think it's a good story, and assuming you're a half-decent writer and got lucky with a publisher, there'll always be someone who likes it out there. It's your story - whether the idea is "original" or not, it's still yours, and that aspect makes it unique. There'll always be something out there that's similar to yours - if you let that hinder you, you'll never write.

    But anyway, the reason I quoted Tourist is actually that it reminded me how, as a child, I used to strive to be original. I thought of a million different ways to present something, I really worked to write something different. I wanted to write a crime story in 1st person and where the narrator is the killer, but somehow the reader only finds out in the ending. I wrote a few pages from the perspective of a new born baby, and made myself describe even a cup in strange words and even the colour blue, because clearly a new born has never seen anything blue before now. I started my chapter one with "The end" as the first line (oh and then added "to be continued" after 'The End'). I wrote a story where the entire narration is a conversation between 4 people, represented in 4 different fonts.

    I mean, none of those ideas were particularly viable, and maybe they seem really silly, but in trying to be original, it actually meant it led me to being creative, coming up with new ideas, playing with writing - and not just the words, but the storytelling.

    And then ever since I learnt that "there's nothing original in this world anymore", I stopped all that. I satisfied myself with whatever story I could come up with, with almost no thought to how I could present it in a different way.

    Now I still think it's impossible to come up with anything completely original, and I also think people worry too much about it - but at the same time, if we stopped striving for originality, no matter whether it's possible, then don't we lose something in our writing? We'd stop growing as writers.
     
  16. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    Originality is possible but it's through you're own voice and presentation, not through the plots. There are in fact only 7 basic plotlines, but they can be implemented in such a wide variety of ways that it doesn't matter. Focus on putting in good twists, realistic characterisation and a rich setting. Don't try and reinvent the wheel because short of writing abstract, incomprehensible nonsense and calling it a story true originality isn't real. Name any story and you can easily strip it down to the bare bones and find that it is, in that state identical to hundreds of others. The plots are:

    . Overcoming the monster
    . Rags to riches
    . The quest
    .Voyage and return
    . Comedy
    . Tragedy
    . Rebirth

    Plots can be mixed and matched and stuck together but ultimately it's all the same. Tvtropes has an informative page on it.
     
  17. The-Joker
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    While all your points are valid I wouldn't so wantonly discount the virtues of originality. Let's not forget that after the front cover, the premise is the first thing that attracts a reader. A query letter to an agent is basically the premise presented with the tone and writing style of the book. it's definitely not everything but I'd have to say it's one of the more important things when trying to forge a path to publishing success. Having a concept that's fresh is a major advantage. What is fresh? Anything that has enough of a spin to distinguish it from other works of popular fiction.

    Example: 1) a detective of paranormal crimes must hunt down a vampire on a killing spree in New York.

    2) A neurosurgeon breaks into a supernatural prison in Istanbul to find the vampire that can save his wife.

    A skilled writer can turn no. 1 into a bestseller, and you can't judge a book based on one sentence, but with all other variables unknown, I'd without a doubt much rather learn more about book 2.

    Originality is a spectrum, and while example 2 might arguably not be original in absolutist terms, the basic concept comes much closer than the first. Being at the positive end of that spectrum, whether it's with the building blocks concept or the minutest details of a scene, can't hurt you, but it could definitely help.
     
  18. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with you guys too. I think originality lies in retelling old stories in new ways. In language, style, voice, setting, characters, approach. in the end it comes out as something so different that people assume it's a unique idea and wonder why no one has ever thought of that before. it's the presentation that is unique, not the story concept.
     
  19. MissRis
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    I think I have posted a similar comment in another thread here, but I would strongly argue against the possibility of anyone within the creative domain's ability to produce work that is original. Julia Kristeva introduced the semiotic notion of intertextuality. That is, texts do not exist within a closed system: "'every text is from the outset under the jurisdiction of other discourses which impose a universe on it." When writers write we can only use the systems that are in place. In which case, things like "originality" are simply ideologies to be broken down. Nothing is ever truly original. When writers create a story they can only work within these systems. You must use an accepted format of the genre, whatever language you use has preexisted your story, and even literary tropes or symbolism are used because of their ability to evoke a common response in readers.

    Obviously I've reduced semiotics into something postable, but I think the argument is still valid. We should stop knocking ourselves over the head that a work must be "original" to be good. It's the story you tell, the language you use, and your ability to evoke emotion in a reader that makes literature good - it's certainly not reinventing the wheel. Although the pursuit of breaking down the confines of the genre are admirable, it usually results in texts lost to obscurity, read only by a handful of insane academics who pretend to understand its profundity.
     
  20. Lazy
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    You're pretty much objectively wrong, unfortunately. Most people don't care about originality nor are they even well read enough to spot it when they see it. That is why you get completely cliched (sorry) and derivative books like Eragon becoming hugely popular.

    That doesn't mean I think you shouldn't strive to be original, just that I know for sure that your audience won't really care if you are or not.
     
  21. aeri
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    aeri New Member

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    This reminds me of basically those "modern versions" of the Grimm's fairy tales :p I say each plot derives from some sort of inspiration, whether it is a book, person, or place, so I do agree that it is very hard to be original, but you can still stand out with your writing style and how you characterize your characters and develop your story (just as many people have stated explicitly or implicitly) in one compact book :) So I believe anyway.
     
  22. Ventis
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    Originality is important. It's more than just the 'original style' or use of language... If you reduce stories to the core, then yes, everything was told already. But if we take it so generally, then all the lives of all peoples are the same: they are born, they live, they die. :D Yet lives of individuals are different. It's same with the stories.

    I don't think it's bad to write a story that is not completely original - I think it's natural to people, to reinvent and retell stories told by someone else. But I do think it's bad if it doesn't bring something new - and more than just language New view, new approach, new reactions of new characters. I hate cliche, on any level, plot included.
     
  23. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    I was going to stay out of this from now on, but you brought out a very important issue. Yes, there are only five Greek tragedy themes, and the use of style is a factor.

    However, I think this "minor variations on an established theme" is the crux for me. Having a strong female lead fighting an oppressive goverment responsible for killing teenagers, except that she uses a crossbow their rendition, is not creativity. Neither is wearing a different color shirt, or having zombies attack from north instead of the south.

    I did feel that 'Zombieland' was a fresh take, and I hate zombies. The new Johnny Depp movie is a derivative of "Love at First Bite," but at least the writer was using his head.

    But those stories show that other writers are sitting down to craft new stories. A spin-off is never as good as the original. The 'sophomore' movie always has more car crashes and less plot. We all like something new, but not after everybody we know starts to wear it.

    I'm a big fan of the new TV show "Awake." Yeah, it's a cop drama. Or is it? I do know that it's fresh, it's creative and it beats any rendition of "Law and Order" or CSI set up in any town. You can call northern attacking zombies a fresh perspective, but will your readers, and more importantly, will any publisher?
     
  24. Lazy
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    Of course it is. Nobody is saying that you should just use somebody else's story and tell it in a new way... we are simply saying it's possible to do so and make something worth reading.

    If you try desperately to be original then you can easily come up with something that's never been done before. But chances are there is a REASON it's never been done before. I think you're either original or you aren't. If you try to be original your results will not be very good.
     
  25. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    What is your vendetta against Hunger Games? You're attacking it left right and centre around the forum. No one said it's "original" because of Katniss' frigging crossbow. People think it's original because of how personally the author conveyed the issues and themes that were fleshed out within the book. Now, the premise itself, the character's driven nature and even the very good and thoughtful themes themselves - NONE of them were original and no one ever claimed so. Quit your vendetta. (Incidentally, I liked Hunger Games not because it's original, nor because it's creative - I liked it because its world and characters were real to me, and that is, frankly, all I care about and all most readers will care about)

    And in answer to your rhetorical question of "Will your readers and publisher think it's original just because you changed some minor detail?" - the answer is, quite clearly, YES. Just look at the number of zombie apocalypse, Twilight vampire romance copycats and yes, books like Hunger Games that resemble Gladiator and such being PUBLISHED and being FAMOUS, widely read around the globe - and that should tell you, clearly the masses disagree with you. There are still publishers and readers alike who think these things are original, or that their presentation is original.

    As someone else has said, most readers are not even well-read enough to spot originality when they see it. They only care about the story - 9 times out of 10 they don't even frigging care if it's well-written - just look at how famous Twilight and the Da Vinci Code and you know it's true. And here we are, talking about originality. In the end, really, just write. Strive to be original for sure but screw it if it's not - if you believe in your story then write it and write it to the best of your ability and then get the damn thing published and be proud of it!

    All this, however, is quite a different issue to whether one should strive for originality or whether originality exists.
     

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