1. elfdragonlord
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    elfdragonlord Member

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    Original ideas - is there any such thing?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by elfdragonlord, Jan 8, 2007.

    I've recently been suffering from an all too familiar (but possibly useful) affliction where I start to feel that the series of novels I've been writing and the world they are set in is not actually taking my writing where I want it to go after all.

    I am beginning to feel that I should write something more inventive and original than generic fantasy stories. After all when Tolkien invented fantasy in the form that most people mean when they simply say 'fantasy' it was quite an original idea. A whole term was invented for it called 'secondary worlds'. And no-one has quite achieved the massive success in this genre that Tolkien did.

    The other majorly succesful fantasy stories (I'm talking the ones that made mega-bucks) have also involved interesting new twists on the fantasy genre. Pratchett came up with the idea of setting his stories on a world that is flat. Rowling's Harry Potter books involved a kind of parallel fantasy world going on behind the scenes of this world and cleverly marketed it towards a childhood audience with the interesting idea of a school for wizards.

    The questions I have are thus: Is it worthwhile trying to write within a tradition or genre that is well established already or is it best to find a completely novel approach to world creation and find as interesting or different a take on a given genre as possible? And is it possible to come up with a completely original idea anyway? Did Tolkien invent the most familiar type of fantasy story - or is that type of story older than him? Is Discworld or Harry Potter really as original as I'm imagining them to be? But if not then what was it that made them stand out enough to be embraced by millions?

    How original does a writer have to be to be a success rather than an amateur?
     
  2. Max Vantage
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    Max Vantage Banned

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    Their mastery of their chosen genre.
    You love fantasy so this is the genre you choose to write in. This is perfectly okay, so study everything on it and its conventions. The last thing you want to do is follow a cliche and this will invariably happen if you don't know much about either the subject matter of an individual story you want to write or the genre that it's in.

    There are some who have the misguided opinion that there is no such thing as originality. I think they're wrong. What we write concerns humanity, where we've been, where we are and where we could possibly go.
    The characters we use in our stories could be animals, inanimate objects, or creatures from the ends of the universe, but they are written in human form for us to understand ourselves.
    Story is metaphor for life. Examine it. Love it. Love it so much you become sick of it. Then write about it.
    Then you won't be re-heating the same old stuff and re-serving it like leftovers.

    Story is about life.
     
  3. Drydon
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    Drydon New Member

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    Same, but in the end of the day you never write a story once, you write it, read it, change it, reread it. It evolves from that, first write what you think you want, and once you've read it you will know better what you really want to write, how you want to structure thing's, your story will therefor become more attuned to you as a person. Don't be disappointed by the first draft of a story, using it as a building stone for the final product.

    Look up the forgotten realm's, a much more developed world than middle earth.
    I don't know why Tolkien skyrocketed to fame with LotR, there are many many great fantasy tale's out there. You can even see that there are many thing's from middle earth that exist in such other worlds like the forgotten realms, like Hobbits are easily compared to halflings.
    Tolkien wrote a drama, romance, action and Medieval Epic-esque battle novel, not just a fantasy novel, and I think that is why he was so successful. Only LotR of his work is known though.


    I've read Neil Gaiman "Books of Magic" series or well, part of it, and it is VERY similar to Harry potter, could be coincidence thought
     
  4. elfdragonlord
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    elfdragonlord Member

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    Except of course that Tolkien came before Dungeons and Dragons. Since Forgotten Realms and other D&D settings were the late seventies onwards but Tolkien's 'The Hobbit' was released in the thirties while LOTR was forties or fifties. Hence my point that Tokien more or less invented that style of fantasy (though there are some previous people I think - and anyway the basic idea of fantasy comes from mythology)
     
  5. Magnum Opus
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    Magnum Opus New Member

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    I agree with Max here, there is still a thing called originality, but to find it, we can't let our influences, ie, the stories we read or authors we love, become our writing.

    To stay original, like JK Rowling, or anyone else who has ever invented a world that we love to read about then really, I feel anyway, you have to let the story be you.

    Not write about yourself obviously, though sometimes, in small doses that helps, but rather you have to let YOUR ideas, YOUR beliefs, YOUR imagination shape the world. Not everything else you have ever read.

    All the other stuff you have ever read is basically a guide that will help you, but the story you write is yours.
     
  6. Drydon
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    Drydon New Member

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    I'm aware of the timeline, but what I'm referring to is the quality and quantity of work.
    How much do you know about middle earth?
    There's a whole book available on the forgotten realms.
    Just because somethings been done, doesn't mean it can't be done better.
     
  7. Lily
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    Lily Member

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    One of the best things I've ever heard a published author say is 'you can use the same idea as somebody else, and still get a completely different story.' It's the truth, we all think and feel and act differently, it reflects in our writing. Originality is real...but even and original idea branched from a thought, it was inspired by something else. The stories I wrote as a child seemed pretty dang original at the time, but then I grew up, saw movies, and read books that had similar plot/story lines as what I came up with, even though I had never seen or read those stories/movies, etc.
    Either way, it will come out differently.
     
  8. Hellbent
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    Hellbent Senior Member

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    I think as long as you keep the story in your perspective of things, it will be original. Forget about what other people have done in Fantasy. What kinds of monsters and species do you see in Fantasy? Elves and dwarves, or are there other species to be introduced? The entire thing probably won't be different from other fantasy writers, but some of it will.

    My advice is to be as original as possible. But mainly just tell your damn story and see what happens.

    And if you think Fantasy is hard to stay original in, you should try horror. Everybody's got their hands in on that. EVery story possible has been told about ghosts, vampires, Were-wolves, wild animals, killers, clowns and whatever else Stephen King has come up with. I think he has a new one about a psychotic, midieval lamp or Chandelier or something.

    But yeah, horror is hard. The only way to write horror is to be really creative or think about what scares you and put it into a story. Or go off of your dreams and nightmares, that's what I do.

    But it sounds like you're between a rock and a hard place, Dragonlord. It sounds like you've worked hard on your stories so you can't just stop now. But if you're completely unsatisfied with it then you have to do something.
     
  9. Wader Go
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    Wader Go Member

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    The greatest quote I've ever hear in regards to originality (I wish I remembered who said it, but I don't) is that someone who tries to be original will never be, while someone who simply writes the truth, with no care taken to originality, will nine times out of ten be original without even trying.

    I think that rings true.
     
  10. Spherical Time
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    Spherical Time Contributing Member

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    There are other, very similar stories, including LeGuin's Earthsea stories. Schools for wizards are nothing new.

    One of the ones that I remember best is Wizard's Hall by Yolen. In some ways, it was amazingly like Harry Potter (and it was written in '91, two years before "Books of Magic").

    The more general the idea is (say "School for Wizards"), the more likely it is to have been thought of before.

    I think that original thought is in the specifics, just like Lily and Hellbent suggest.
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    there are only 3 basic 'original' plots:

    man vs man
    man vs god
    man vs self

    and the originators painted them on their cave walls...

    all that's been written since, is merely creative plagiarism... how well you can re-use those 3 original ideas determines how good a writer you are...
     
  12. Spherical Time
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    Spherical Time Contributing Member

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    So, do you believe that there are no original specifics? That there is no creation involved in forming a world in your work?
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    huh?... did i say that?... specifics of what?...

    and where did i say that?... if these questions were aimed at me, please read what i wrote more carefully... i think it's self-explanatory... if you still don't get it, let me know and i'll see if i can explain it more simply...
     
  14. Wader Go
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    Wader Go Member

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    Well one of my stories is god vs god. Is that original?
     
  15. Onoria Westhrop
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    Onoria Westhrop Contributing Member

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    I wholly disagree with the above reduction of plots to three 'original' plots, on the following grounds:
    a) It's logically specious. You might as well say that there are only 3 basic plots 1) Those with men 2) those without men 3) those that are neither 1 or 2.
    b) It completely ignores the complexity of story telling without regarding details - I'm genetically 99 percent similar to Hitler, it doesn't make me a genocidal maniac, it makes me human. Just to say that all plots involve people in some sort tense situation with other people or non-people (gods, their environment) is not really to say anything at all.
    c) It assumes that all plots center around confrontation (vs.) - life always involved confrontation to some degree, but to say that is the key to the plot of Princess de Cleves or Jeeves in the Offing is ludicrous.
    d) I can think of at least fifty novels that do not fit that formula, for example - Duncton Wood, Winnie the Pooh, I am a cat, Alice in Wonderland...
    e) Even if we were looking at confrontation, you would have to consider that man vs. alien, King Kong Vs. Godzilla etc. are possibilities that have manifested themselves in novel form.
     
  16. Max Vantage
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    Max Vantage Banned

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    Yeah, the problem behind the statement that Man VS. Man, Man VS. God, Man VS. Self in that they are the only original "three" plots is incorrect. They are concepts of plot.

    They are concepts because they are too general.
    As an example, many a screenplay or book manuscript has been marketed successfully on the basis of a concept. The film Alien (directed by Ridley Scott) used the concept of Jaws in space as a selling tool.
    The sequel, Aliens (Directed by James Cameron), used the concept of Vietnam in space.
    Concepts are used to simplify in likening something specific with something else to give the recipient a general idea of what a story is going to be about in a straightforward manner, but they're not plots.

    Plot is something specific in terms of the events of your story: who it involves, what happens, what results in terms of character decisions, what the eventual outcome is, etc, etc, etc and so fourth.

    In writing, character and plot are one and the same. Plot is the result character. Character is the result of plot. Stories have differing degress as to which one plays the dominant role (i.e. "plot-driven" or "character-driven").
     
  17. IW-Cavalier
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    IW-Cavalier Member

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    I was about to post a thread about this yesterday.XD

    Back to the question. No. Nothing is ever entirely original at this point in history. Even the most "original" story was most likely put together using some of the better elements of stories that have already been done.
     
  18. Max Vantage
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    Max Vantage Banned

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    The thing is, stories are based around humans. The only way of being able to create something that is truely original in a way that has never been done before is if it's about an existence we don't yet as know.
    As an example, we could create a story based from the point of view of an alien.
    But what do we know about aliens/other intelligent lifeforms (for real/fact I mean)? Nothing, because we have never come into regular (or any) contact with them.
    And if we did chances are that this species we would have no idea of understanding in anyway so it wouldn't exactly work writing from such a thing.

    The only other way is if humanity were to evolve drastically beyond the way we are now.
    I'd stick to telling stories from the human angle for now.
    Don't get confused between the differences of originality and similarity.
     
  19. Onoria Westhrop
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    Onoria Westhrop Contributing Member

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    Nah, you are moving into dangerous waters by saying there are no original plots. I agree with Max, in that your comment calls into question the very nature of originality. If you categorically deny the possibility of originality, then you make copying logically impossible. Copy/original are coodependent concepts. Was your first author god?
    Except, perhaps, in the case of an-original repetition proposed by Max - by which I mean that nature makes two identical snowflakes because the mechanism behind snowflake creation only contains a huge but finite number of possible designs but the amount of time and space in the Universe is limitless. (making big astronomical assumptions there...) In a similar way, a man living in an isolated village in the jungle writes Shakespeare's Hamlet.
    All of which takes the argument to a bit of an extreme. I think the first sci-fi stories, while involving certain older ideas, are new enough to count as 'original'.
     
  20. IW-Cavalier
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    Dude, aliens have been done. Not to say it was done well, but trust me, it's been done. And really, who cares? In writing we seek to tell a truth, and as long as our focus is to tell our own stories of truth, then we will in ourselves be original without even attempting to be. Don't think about who you're too similar to, just do your own thing and if it's been done by someone else, oh well, you probably did it in a different way. I think we make too big of a stink over originality. Given that nobody will ever be able to make a story in which it ends with the desctruction of a ring of power being thrown into a volcano but a little person, that's just posing so who gives a damn.
     
  21. Spherical Time
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    Spherical Time Contributing Member

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    Specifics of a story. The elements of the work, such as characters, setting, plot, and style.

    Sorry, but you did say:

    That certainly implies that nothing is generated by writing a new work.

    The reason that I asked about specifics is that I was trying to find out exactly how far you carry this general accusation of plagiarism. I find a lot of creation in the specific content of each work. You might be able to generalize down to 3 plots, but that seems dismiss all of the real work that writers do when creating a new story.

    For instance, Tolkien created a new language. His plot may have been man vs. man or man vs. self or whatever archetype you assign to his books, but I still think that the new language was original.

    Perhaps this is just another instance of the massive disconnect between you and I. I just don't understand who you are and where you're coming from.
     

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