Originality?????

Fri, May 9 2014 05:14am IST 1
Bonwick
Bonwick
282 Posts

When was the last time you read something Original?

Or is Originality dead?

What i mean is whenever i have an idea and i excitedly write the scene, and at some point in the next month, i will come across this idea somwhere.

Then i get the shakes and fret, biting my nails, wearing myself out and all those around me with my worries that every idea i have, which at the time i am sure i have not come across, has already been done a thousand and one times in a thousand and one different ways.

Im finding that im having this problem with new books im reading, they are all the same. Same characters, same plots...

Is it possible that i need to give stories a rest...the horror.

Or is my idea of originality off? what makes something original for each of you?

Fri, May 9 2014 08:54am IST 2
CJ
CJ
1636 Posts
I know how you feel - I planned my next novel and then discovered there's not only already a horror novel out there with the same name, but I then watched a J-horror film with a very similar plot. Argh! They say there are only 7 (??? I might be wrong!) actual stories out there, so all you can do is write your own spin on it in your own way to the best of your ability. And sometimes, being similar or inspired by something that has come before is a good thing - when people say they can see the Lovecraftian influence in my work, I take that as a big fat compliment ^^D.

The thing is to let go of this - it's just another barrier to actually sitting down and writing all the story ideas you have (which is harder said than done, I know).
Fri, May 9 2014 08:59am IST 3
CJ
CJ
1636 Posts
Oh, and the last time I read something truly original was The House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. If I can write something even approaching that in terms of genius weirdiness and genuine dread, I will retire happy.
Fri, May 9 2014 09:12am IST 4
Barb
Barb
1331 Posts
It's all in the way you tell it. And no one will tell it like you.

There's a million stories where a character tries to lead a good life but then gets so disillusioned that he turns bad.

It becomes unique when that character is Michael Corleone.

The originally is in the way Mario Puzo tells it.
Fri, May 9 2014 09:34am IST 5
EmmaD
EmmaD
3382 Posts
There are only seven basic plots if you're Christopher Brooker, 21 if you're ... can't remember, 47 if you're Vladimir Propp ... Whatever - the fundamental stories that have wired our human brains are quite few.

Ibsen's last three plays all explore the same story and Jaws is An Enemy of the People with a shark instead of a nightmare disease; Othello is the dark inversion of Much Ado About Nothing; Private Lives is also Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf; and the correspondences between Hamlet/Ophelia and Charles/Diana are really, really spooky.

As Barb says, it's not the idea, it's the way you carry it out: the specifics of the prose, the setting, the actual individual characters, the theme you explore and how you explore it, the ideas that you explore along with the basic Cinderella-or-Ulysses of the ur-story which it's your turn to have a go at. Of course all stories have the same skeleton, as humans do: it's the flesh you put on the bones and the spirit and brain you put in the mind which makes a person a person.
Fri, May 9 2014 09:36am IST 6
EmmaD
EmmaD
3382 Posts
More here, on feeling disheartened because it's all been done before: http://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/2009/10/making-the-skeleton-dance.html

and here, on worrying that you're stealing others' ideas:

http://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/2013/12/picking-stealing-and-dancing-skeletons.html
Fri, May 9 2014 11:57am IST 7
EmmaD
EmmaD
3382 Posts
Sometimes I think there are only two basic stories: either you save your bodily life or you don't; either you save your emotional life or you don't. Thriller or romance, in other words. Everything is a permutation or combination of those four possibilities.
Fri, May 9 2014 01:04pm IST 8
Daedalus
Daedalus
1600 Posts
I've heard that in screenwriting circles they say there's only one plot - someone wants something and will do almost anything to get it. This tends to have two permutations - the person gets what they want, or, the person discovers that actually they want something else.
Fri, May 9 2014 01:37pm IST 9
jagospear
jagospear
96 Posts
I don't care about originality seeing as it's a chimera anyhow; I'm happy to read variations on a theme over and over because that 'theme' interests me and moves me. How that 'theme' is written about is most important to me.

But about your point about becoming terrified when you recognise something of your own novel in someone else's - I think the uncanniness is unavoidable. It's not necessarily terror in my case more dismay, but it is dismay that can be launched over something as small as another writer using the same word that I used.
Fri, May 9 2014 01:55pm IST 10
Lou
Lou
542 Posts
Interesting. Ideas rarely are "original"? All stories boil down to one thing, usually: your MC wants something, they'll struggle for it, and eventually they will gain it, or they won't. Originality is only to be found in the way a novel is written, rather than its story, that's my take on it anyway.
Fri, May 9 2014 03:07pm IST 11
Daedalus
Daedalus
1600 Posts
'It's what you do with it that counts' - I've had reviews for Daedalus and the Deep praising its originality, others suggesting it's a rip-off of Moby Dick. There are similarities and differences.
Fri, May 9 2014 03:30pm IST 12
EmmaD
EmmaD
3382 Posts
I think many readers - especially people who don't read much, and/or who are weak or inexperienced readers - really can't see beyond the basic facts (it's why so many readers of hist fic assume that research is the difficult thing - which it isn't.)

They don't read enough to have got past the basic, superficial similarities: anything set in the Navy they just see what it has in common with Patrick O'Brien - well, ships, say - and anything about learning to be a wizard is a ripoff of Harry Potter, etc. etc. You also see it in people who think that big-name authors "stole" their idea: they thought their idea of writing a story set in a school for wizards was amazingly original (because they, personally, had never come across it), so anyone who comes up with it later "must" have been plagiarising: rather than just drawing, as they have, on the common stock of stories, and combining them.

I wrote a novel about falling in love in wartime, so I must, said some of the blog entries, have been ripping off Captain Corelli and Birdsong - neither of which I've read. Professional reviewers don't make that mistake.
Fri, May 9 2014 07:16pm IST 13
Daedalus
Daedalus
1600 Posts
Quite. I read Moby Dick (and taught it to undergrads) quite a while ago, but I tend to see it as a work about the nature of existence, and what can be known and understood of nature, and not an adventure about a guy who's obsessed with killing the whale that took his leg. Still, I appreciate that one ship, one sea creature, no bull is a similar concept at bottom.
Sat, May 10 2014 01:51pm IST 14
Nightwing
Nightwing
11 Posts

Do remember that concepts like vampires, werewolves and zombies have been used and altered over and over again across literature and film. Do we all immediately leap up and cry ripoff when someone uses them today? Ideas are governed by copyright, but in my humble opinion these are merely some of the intangible aspects of a piece of literature which is used to form the whole.

I'd draw a parallel with human personality. We each experience things like anger, love, happiness and sadness. Many of us go through major events in our lives such as career success/misfortune, marriage/divorce, loss of parents/loved ones. Yet despite all of these things in common... we still consider every human personality to be unique. The usual reasoning for this is in the smaller details. For example, one person is more likely to forgive and forget while another will hold a grudge. You can then apply this across a spectrum of events or slights that a person could experience and create an enormous number of individual personalities from that one little area of contention. Then start to consider how many areas of contention there are in life that will get different reactions from different people. You'd then need to multiply that by the various shades of personality from every different area of conetention... the numbers become huge pretty quickly. It's no wonder we can think of personalities as unique. Personality stereotypes are probably very similar to the idea of the genre system for classifying books. (They certainly seem to get similar negative reactions from us when used haha.)

From my perspective, the books which I've enjoyed the most will include some things I'm familiar with... but ultimately the detail and specifics which are used to provide the emotional connection to the story will be what separates the book from the pack. The idea is only the structure of the building, decorate and furnish it uniquely and everybody will comment on what a lovely house you have :) For writing, style and details for characters, location, events etc. provide such a wide variety of options (possibly as varied as personality itself), that can make any story seem unique. I'd try not to worry to much. Just stay true to yourself and your vision. Chances are that your unique personality has made your vision unique too.

Sat, May 10 2014 10:59pm IST 15
JayG
JayG
141 Posts
Mark Twain got it right when he said that the last original storyteller was Adam.

But why let that bother you? Plot matters, and we have to have one, but until they read, "The end" the reader won't know it. And halfway through your story the reader has no clue of where it's going to end up. So why are they still with you? For the writing. In fact, that's the only reason they turned from page one to page two, and the reason I'm such a one-trick-pony about learning craft. Our readers are volunteers, so we have to seduce them into staying, because all around you are other authors, with the same general plot structure, shouting, "Read me, I'm better!"
Wed, Sep 13 2017 04:11pm IST 16
Gus
Gus
114 Posts
When I wrote my manuscript I don't think I was even trying to be 'original'. I took inspiration from many of the stories, concepts and fictional universes I love, and then tried to create my own, without actually copying anything directly. Often you find that what you thought was original has actually been done before. For example, I had never read Dune when I wrote my first draft, by once I did read it I noticed an uncanny level of similarity, not with the story but with certain aspects of the setting and narrative structure. I also realised how much inspiration George Lucas got from Dune, despite Star Wars not being explicitly based on anything else...
Wed, Sep 13 2017 07:12pm IST 17
Yo
Yo
181 Posts
I'm not sure anything needs to be original really. A 'nice-to-have' rather than a 'must-have'. There's lots of love (and money) for the consistent same-old, same-old. Mills and Boon still sell at a rate of 200 million books a year!

However, some ideas:

1. A tale about a gay footballer. The prejudice, the troubles, the bullying, the exclusion, the inequality. I don't know of any books about gay footballers 'daring' to come-out. Maybe it would pave the way to it actually happening in the real world.

2. This character. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spring-heeled_Jack. It's about time someone fictionalised 'something' like him to sell a million face masks at Halloween.

3. Plenty of 'end of world' stuff out there, how about a beginning of the world story? The closest we get is Adam and Eve, The Silmarillion and the bloke who creates worlds in Hitchhikers Guide.

4. A tale of oEngland from 3000 years ago. A new hero, or anti-hero, we don't hear much about this time, but there may well have been a human with a Jonathan Livingston Seagull spirit that moves humanity on a notch.

5. A kerbstone who suffers from heartburn, a cats-eye with a daylight phobia, a lampost trying to seduce a very neat garden hedge, a metal drain grill who wants to travel the world, a pebble who's escaped the driveway and is looking for his next adventure out on the open road. The drain is so jealous. It all happens in the world of the Roadies.

6. Dogs that find out their missing mate has been carted off to the animal experiments lab and go in search of him only to find all sorts of man-made horrors along the way. Farming animals to kill on a mass scale and then calling bits of them 'Happy Meals' to entice the human children. Killing the countryside to house more humans. And let's not get started on what they find when they get to the zoo! All it takes is one 'freak' dog with Einstein like qualities.

I could go on, but I want to write a nice cliched story where a bloke gets bit by a dog-thing and barks at the moon every four weeks.




Wed, Sep 13 2017 09:16pm IST 18
RichardB
RichardB
1140 Posts
Gus, I've heard that Star Wars was actually inspired by a film by the famous Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. as was The Magnificent Seven (though not the same fim, obviously).

Yo, how could you have forgotten the magnificent name of Douglas Adams' world builder, Slartibartfast?

The wackiest, and most deeply cynical, take on world-making I've encountered is in one of the novels of James Branch Cabel, an early twentieth century American author mostly forgotten now, though he was a strong influence on Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. He had a habit of poking fun at sacred cows and puncturing humanity's pretensions, which many at the time found deeply shocking; and in the novel in question someone dies and is transported to the afterlife, where he finds that world-making is considered by the gods to be a silly game fit only to be played by their children, rather like our children playing with toy bricks.
Thu, Sep 14 2017 04:30pm IST 19
Daedalus
Daedalus
720 Posts
The originality is what you bring to it, especially since postmodernism encouraged a more self-conscious and self-referential attitude to art. As Richard says, a lot of the style of Kurosawa (hard-wipes, intercut slo-mo) was shamelessly borrowed by US directors. Quentin Tarantino makes a virtue out of all his films being inspired by other people's work rather than directly from life. That doesn't make those artists' work unoriginal - it would only do that if they slavishly copied without acknowledging their debt or doing something new with it.

@Yo - nothing new under the sun. There was a Hellblazer story that featured Spring Heeled Jack a few years ago. Isaac Asimov wrote a story that was simultaneously an end-of-the-world and a beginning-of-the-world tale ('The Last Question'). The kerbstone...I'll grant you that one.

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