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 The Ops Pops 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 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 The Ops Pops 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
     
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  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 Member 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 at 5:20 AM
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  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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