1. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    Two Thoughts On Originality, One Old and One New

    Discussion in 'Insights & Inspiration' started by Simpson17866, Jan 8, 2018.

    For a while now, my go-to response to new writers asking variations of "Should I not write this because it's been done before?" (the irony of which I am just now realizing as I typing this) has been to quote Sun Tzu

    There are but 5 notes, yet their combinations are more than can ever be heard

    There are but 5 colors, yet their combinations are more than can ever be seen

    There are but 5 flavors, yet their combinations are more than can ever be tasted​

    And to point out that chefs are not expected to invent every single ingredient from scratch – to forgo meats, grains, dairy, fruits, vegetables, sweets, and spices because "those have all been done before" – so why should writers be expected to do this?

    Recently, though, I was sharing this again and I came up with a way of expanding upon this:

    When you look at one work that's similar to your own, your own work will feel derivative.

    When you look at two works that are similar to your own, you can see how the two differ from each other, and this can guide you in making your own different from both ;)

    I've actually done this second part before, but I'd never formalized it into a specific technique before.

    TLDR: Using familiar tropes in new ways is every bit as original as inventing new elements entirely from scratch, so this shouldn't be something to worry about :)
     
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  2. Wreybies

    Wreybies Arroz Con Admin Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The idea of a trope being recognized in my work never scares me. I know that my WIP is founded on the Lost Colony Trope. This is a steadfast trope in Science Fiction. The fact that it exists in other works (Pern, Darkover) is no different to me than the fact that pretty much every sedan you've ever ridden in had floor pans, and a firewall, and a transmission, and 4 tires, etc. etc. etc. No one would look at a Bugatti and call it derivative of a Toyota because the former shares those elements with the latter. To me tropes are structural scaffolding. I think we run into trouble when the trope is regarded as the end goal in and of itself, as though the below frame were a car in any real sense:

    [​IMG]

    It has the makings of a car, but it's not a car yet.
     
  3. Kenosha Kid

    Kenosha Kid Active Member

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    That's the thing, isn't it: sometimes a writer wants to make a statement; sometimes they're making a contribution to a conversation. There ought to be originality in both, but in the latter it's with respect to a genre or trope which is identifiable by it's modes, in much the same way that original car is original with respect to the idea of a car, e.g. it still has four wheels but no roof, or it has a roof but three wheels.
     
  4. Wreybies

    Wreybies Arroz Con Admin Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Perhaps... My point was more to the idea of not confusing the props for the story. When someone asks me, say, "what elements can I add to a zombie apocalypse story to make it more original?" my answer is never going to be in the form of how to alter the zombies to make them unique, or moving the "safety zone" (there's always one, isn't there?) somewhere other than North, where it always is, or really anything having to do with the usual props of a zombie story because that doesn't really change anything in the underlying story. It doesn't give it or alter its purpose. I'm not a big fan of zombie stories when the props are the main focus. Zombies, Safety Zone, Group of Scrappy Survivors™, Evil Scientist Who Started All This and is Also Still Alive™, RUN!! When that's all there is, there's nothing there for me. It's a pointless exercise. Now, take all those props and elements and use them to say something other than zombies, run! and you've got my attention. The film Warm Bodies uses the typical zombie algorithm to talk about addiction to technology and how we're all becoming "zombies" to the little screens we stare at all day long. The British series In The Flesh uses the zombie trope to talk about people living with HIV. Both stories are excellent in that they understand the trope is a tool to tell a story, not the story itself.

    ETA: Or, to return to the car analogy, though a '56 Corvette convertible and an '83 Dodge 400 convertible are - at a very basic level - made up of the same set of components, each tells a very different story.

    COMBO.jpg
     
  5. zoupskim

    zoupskim Contributor Contributor

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    Everything is derivative, since the durn Odyssey.

    One of my favorite books of all time, Hyperion by Dan Simmons, is just The Canterbury Tales told in sppaaaace. The setting and characters are different, but the plot is literally the same thing: a bunch of pilgrims compare stories, and find out that God/Shrike has affected them all long before they met, showing us their world through different experiences, worldviews, and timelines.

    Harry Potter is Star Wars set in magic London tiiimes. Magic boy is special and saves world with friends.

    50 Shades of Grey is Twilight with bondage, and Twilight is Beauty and the Beast with vampires, and Beauty and the Beast is Cupid and Psyche with a furry.

    The special voice you give to a story, with your thoughts and words and variations, THAT'S what makes a book unique.
     
  6. Orihalcon

    Orihalcon Senior Member

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    This makes me wonder if people put way too much weight on the facts of a story? "This story has these plot points, plays out in this setting, has character types X, Y, Z with characteristics A, B, C, and such-and-such happens. I find the same things in this other story, therefore they're in some fundamental way the same and so in some sense this work is derivative of that other work."

    I used to concern myself with originality because I was afraid---very afraid---that people would reject my work and criticize my person. "Stealing ideas", "bad writer", "unoriginal", "fraud". That sort of thing.

    Not anymore.

    How the story is communicated is everything. Because the story is only a vehicle. Rarely do we propose a setting and some characters and then describe a sequence of events because there is some inherent value in this information. No. These things exist to communicate something else to the reader.

    I think fact comparing is shallow and uninteresting. A sprinkle of originality is helpful for drawing the reader in, but from then on I chuck that shit out the window. There are far more important things to be concerned with than originality.

    @Wreybies gets it. His post is fucking spot on. And those cars are fire.
     
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  7. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Rather than originality, I think it's more helpful to focus on predictibility. Is it easy for readers to guess the outcome of your main plot, subplots, character arcs?

    Some genres do like predictibility, so that's not necessarily bad. But it's a good idea, in my opinion, to be aware of what people will expect to happen in your story. And maybe shake them up a little, without disappointing them?
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2018
  8. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    In almost every situation there are usually two clear choices. When writing, and striving for originality, I always try to think up a third option, the unexpected one. This keeps things interesting and introduces originality without you even really trying. This is something I do every single time I write.
     
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  9. Dreamsage

    Dreamsage Member

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    I agree that everything has been done before. But search for originality isn't futile. Adding something of your own is what makes the difference. Just like with artists and composers, it's original due to your choice of mix: this idea, plus that message, plus that genre, plus that feeling e.t.c.
     
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  10. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Benevolent Ochlocrat Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That's true... At least in the northern hemisphere, wouldn't it make sense to move the Safe Zone™ to the south where it's warmer, thus accelerating the decay processes attacking the marauding hordes? "Yeah, we had a zombie problem in Puerto Rico for about a week, but they all started to rot, and then a hurricane swept the bastards right off the island. Now all we gotta do is fight off FEMA before they brain somebody with a roll of paper towels..."
     
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  11. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Contributor Contributor

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    I agree with your writing.

    And then I remind that chefs are very, very picky about their raw material. It must be fresh, good quality, original, often organic... Chefs don't use too much processed second or third hand ingredients.

    They use what comes from nature, not what comes from factory.

    If and when they use left overs they do it with their own personal twist.

    One reason that they are chefs and not cooks is that they have learned about their ingredients by getting to know what they really are.

    Wanna warm up fast food in micro? You don't need to learn where all this stuff comes.

    Wanna cook? Go to supermarket and buy some bulk stuff that comes from who-knows-where.

    Wanna be a chef and do a gourmet menu? Go and find the good ingredients. Cut the middlemen where ever you can.
     
  12. Wreybies

    Wreybies Arroz Con Admin Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm actually heading into the end of season 5 of The Walking Dead (they've just started to seriously butt heads with the Alexandria compound group) and this thought did occur to me. Shouldn't the walkers be falling apart now? At least the original group of infected. It's really hit or miss as regards how they portray it. Sometimes walkers are still pretty solidly put together. Other times you grab one by the arm and the whole shoulder girdle rips away. Occasionally the dead are little more than an articulated skull, some vertebrae, and an arm fruitlessly grasping at you as you walk by.

    ETA: And you might think, "Yeah, well, that's how it should be. Some have been dead longer and are falling apart, and some are freshly dead and still solid." But when you look at the examples, it doesn't play out. When they go to save Carol and the young girl whose name I forget from the Hospital turned Fascist State, they run across a bunch of the dead in an ambulance parking area that should be newly dead, people the hospital staff tried to save, but are easily the most decayed version of walkers we've seen yet. Some of them are just a smear on the pavement.​

    Anyway... I'm not actually expecting a zombie series to portray anything in a remotely scientific or consistent fashion. Just sayin'... There's the surface story, and then there's the deeper story. I don't let myself get too caught up in the surface story.
     
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  13. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Benevolent Ochlocrat Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Twice this has popped into my head lately. Asimov's Good Taste (spoiler in link)
     
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  14. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    Hey, I could write a very long list of popular ingredients that I despise with every fiber of my being, and in fact some of my best ideas have come from looking at a popular idea and thinking to myself "What scenario can I write to demonstrate just how wrong that idea is?"

    But that still just means that you need to learn as much as possible about as many ingredients as possible from as many places as possible – seeing which ones you like, which ones you don't, and what it is about each one that you do or don't like – rather than trying to forgo ingredients altogether :)

    Thank you for adding to my metaphor (even if you might or might not have been trying to disprove it ;) )
     
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  15. frigocc

    frigocc Senior Member

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    I used to get all bent out of shape regarding originality, but I couldn't care less now. Do I care that Zeppelin stole Whole Lotta Love? Nope. Do I care that you pretty much can't write any joke that Mitch Hedburg hasn't? Nope. Do I care that I can't write any bit that Douglas Adams didn't already beat to death? Nope.

    In other words, Simpsons did it!
     
  16. Nesian

    Nesian Member

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    If I read the Sonnets of William Shakespeare and compare it to my work the first thought to cross my mind will be 'Wow everything I write is trash.' But if I don't compare my work to others, it's fucking magnificent. That's how I feel about trying to be original.
     
  17. frigocc

    frigocc Senior Member

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    I'm a terrible writer, but I'd much rather read my stuff than anything Shakespeare wrote.
     
  18. exweedfarmer

    exweedfarmer Banned Contributor

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    Years and years ago, I took up computer programming. I was amazed. Really. I tried to describe it to a very intelligent friend of mine and he kept say "oh, it's like ...." and I would say no and explain a little more and he would say "oh, it's like …. "and again I would say no and so on. No matter what I did he insisted on likening it to something that he already understood, and it just wasn't. I gave up at last.

    From that I came to think that people aren't comfortable with anything that they can't relate to something else that they understand. Being absolutely original might not be a good thing. I quote from my own blog on this site, " Quantum mechanics isn't hard to understand, it's hard to believe."

    I think that if you stop just short of plagiarism, you're gold.
     
  19. Nesian

    Nesian Member

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    To be honest I've only just started to read the guy. Prior to this I was under the impression that everyone loved the guy, apparently not and I've yet to figure out why.

    I myself am guilty of relating things when I'm introduced to some new information. It has nothing to do with being uncomfortable with originality but how my mind sometimes processes information to expedite it's comprehension of it.
     
  20. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Benevolent Ochlocrat Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That's because contrary to what your freshman English teacher thought, Shakespeare was never ever meant to be read by anyone other than the cast. It's like saying "Well I've read the screenplays for the first three seasons of Lost/Breaking Bad/Dynasty/Beavis and Butthead and I just don't see the appeal." Shakespeare wasn't a book author, he was a playwright. And stay away from the older adaptations of his plays where the directors and actors thought they were producing Great Art. Shakespeare's plays had their cheap seats, which weren't even seats, where the "groundlings" or "stinkards" could watch from directly in front of the stage. This was popular entertainment, with loads of dirty jokes mixed in. From The Taming of the Shrew:

    Elizabeth Taylor's look of shock shows exactly what that line meant. So go watch some Shakespeare; my personal favorites are Mel Gibson's Hamlet, which is about a college-age kid losing his shit because his dad is dead, DiCaprio's Romeo and Juliet, which is about a high-school punk losing his shit because he's got the hots for some chick, and Patrick Stewart's Macbeth, which is about a would-be dictator losing his shit because his wife won't stop pushing.
     
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  21. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin The bastards hung me in the spring of '25.... Contributor

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    What happened to the other 6?
     
  22. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    I’m sorry, I’m not an expert on ancient Chinese musical theory :)
     
  23. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin The bastards hung me in the spring of '25.... Contributor

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    Haha. So I actually looked this up last week or whenever. The Chinese scale is a variant of the major scale and follows a 1 3 4# 5 7 progression. That sharp 4th is the only wonky part of it. I played it a few times and didn't hear anything particularly Chinese about it, but, hey, Sun Tzu, right?
     

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