Tag Archives: Originality

From the Mailbag: On Originality

The other day when I strolled across the information highway to check my digital mailbox I found that someone had written to me asking for advice. That’s right. Advice. From me. Can you imagine?

Taking pity on this poor misguided soul, I responded back as best I knew how. And then, since I am basically lazy I thought, Hey, free blog post!

So now, for your reading amusement and amazement, feast your eyes as Albert the Great answers his mail!

Dear Purveyor of Internet Awesome, [okay so she didn’t actually start like this. I let it slide, but in the future ya’ll need to be remembering my official title, okay?]

I heard about you from your blog on writing and I would like to ask you for some advice.

I’ve had many ideas for stories and I would really love to finish them but after I’ve spent some time writing, I notice that there is another story out there just like mine.

I personally think mine is kinda original, but other people say it isnt and that I’m just trying to get in on money that authors are making by writing about popular things; be it vampires, werewolves, magic, etc.

I wanted to know… Do you think I should continue my story even though it might not be original? Should I just forget about other people’s opinions?

Please help! Thanks for your time.

Sincerely,

Green

Ah, yes. The originality issue. I’m pretty sure most of us who have been writing for any time at all have faced this one at least once. I believe I even wrote a blog post about my own trials with the same problem a while back.

If you happen to be facing a similar dilema here is my advice to Green, and to you.

Dear Green,

I am of two minds on this issue. Okay, three minds, but the third one is Herbert and we aren’t on speaking terms at the moment.

On the one hand, you have to be practical and realize that books with supernatural romance themes are flooding the market at the moment. If you were trying to ride that wave, it almost certainly wouldn’t work.  There are already way too many vampire/werewolf/bigfoot/whatever romance stories out there.

Even if you did somehow break through and sell such a book you’d be competing against so many other similar works, it would be an uphill struggle to stand out.

But on the other hand…there’s a golden band…

Wait, sorry. Stupid country music flashbacks.

On the other hand on some level what you write needs to come from what you love. And if what you really love is supernatural romance, then you should go for it.

It may not be salable, but hey, neither was my first book. In fact, in my experience most first books end up being “training books.” That’s not fun to hear if you’ve spent a lot of time on a book thinking its going the be the greatest thing ever, but the truth is you’re going to need to move on and keep writing whether you sell the first one or not.

The bottom line is, as always, balance. You can’t write a book thinking about whether or not there is going to be a market for it. You need the write the book that you would want to read. But eventually, someone is going to have to think about selling your work, so maybe try not to be too derivative, yes?

Sincerely,

The Great and Mighty Purveyor of Internet Writing Awesome.

So there you have it.

If you have a question for Albert the Great, don’t hesitate to shoot it my way. Who knows? I might just answer. And then I might just parade it in front of  everybody on the internet. With minor modifications for entertainment value of course.

Also, I got Green’s permission first. So there’s that.

Variations on a Theme

If you’ve been a writer for any length of time at all, you’ve had this happen to you.

You tell someone “I’m a writer.”

That someone says, “Oh yeah? What are you writing?”

So you tell them about your story. But about halfway through your synopsis it dawns on you. This story sounds frighteningly familiar. Why if you didn’t know better…but no. No, this is your story. You didn’t steal it from anyone else. You certainly didn’t steal if from that award winning movie that approximately everyone has seen.

Only now that you think about it you story about the girl with the magical ring who trains a dragon and falls in love with a vampire? It sounds just like that other story.

So what do you do? Naturally you go into full panic mode. You shout out “Heavens to Betsy, it’s all in ruination!” and run away from that slack jawed stranger as fast as you can. Or maybe that was just me.

Okay. Calm down. Just…deep breaths. That’s right…in…out…in…you can do this.

Alright, back with us again? Here’s the thing. Originality is a myth. Seriously.

Try to think up a story no one has ever thought of before. Go ahead, think. Come up with something completely original.

Nope, been done. I don’t care what it was you thought of it’s been done somewhere somewhen before.

The truth is you’re never going to make up an original story. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be creative. And it certainly doesn’t mean you should throw up your hands in disgust and start cribbing directly from someone else’s narrative.

But what it does mean is that you can’t let that fear of being unoriginal stop your progress.

The first story I ever wrote was about a girl who finds a magical ring and is chased by an evil presence who’s very existence is linked to the ring. And when you boil it all down like that it sure sounds a whole lot like Lord of the Rings which is pretty much the greatest fantasy story ever written.

That used to bother me a lot. But it doesn’t bother me so much any more. For one thing I know much of the rest of the book is nothing like Lord of the Rings. The rest of the book involves a group of rebels striking from a hidden base against the oppression of an evil empire, and that doesn’t remind me of anything else at all.

So what’s a writer to do? The bottom line is balance.

“Balance again?” you say.

Yes, balance again.

On the one hand you really may have created a story which is too similar to another more famous story. That isn’t wrong persay, but it might very well mean you’ll have a hard time getting it published.

On the other hand, stories are all connected to each other in weird and wonderful ways. Let’s face it, without other stories to inspire us we’d be in a sorry state as writers. We can’t work in a vacuum. And that means that no matter how hard we try some elements of our story are going to line up with other elements in other stories.

It’s okay. It’s not plagiarism. Let’s call it…inspiration.

So if your story ends up sounding like something someone else has already written, take heart. Chances are they were inspired by someone else too. And that’s completely okay with me.