A Question of Originality

fhtt_bookSomething which has been in my mind since entering the world of creative fiction is originality. More to the point is it truly possible to be wholly original when dreaming up works of fiction these days? Whether we like it or not we are all influenced by what we see in our daily lives. Books, magazines, TV programmes, films and indeed conversations with friends and family all stick in our mind. We may not consciously attempt to trawl our memory banks for ideas suggested by others but surely what is in there must impact the thought process. This leads me back to my opening question, namely is there really such a thing as pure originality or does every seemingly new idea have its basis in an idea someone else has already had?

The reason why this is in my head at the moment is simply because I am now beginning to have a succession of thoughts on stories to write. More significantly I have begun to put the foundations in place for an environment which I hope might provide a platform for a series of stories.Nothing too grand at this stage. A city to be precise. I like what I am coming up with but there is one nagging doubt in my head. Has someone thought of this before? I haven’t read every word of fiction that exists so I can’t possibly know for sure. How does anybody ever really know what they have come up with is original? Well my current thought process is not to worry about it. I have three reasons for doing this:

1. No matter if someone else has had the same basic idea before that person wasn’t me. Everyone of us leads different lives and sees the world from a truly unique viewpoint. An idea might not be new but it will be new to me. As such it will be approached from a new perspective. Anyway I might do it better than anyone else might have done so far. I can but try!

2. As most ideas have already been had my plan is to add a twist where possible. In other words take what to some may seem a standard fictional environment but add an element which makes it different. Not a twist for the sake of it but to add an extra layer of interest and intrigue.To hopefully make the story as unique as possible.

3. Even if a story you come up with does have parallels in other work why is this necessarily wrong? I would happily read another book similar to “A Song of Ice and Fire” or “Lord of The Rings”. As long as they are sufficiently different then the fact that they tread similar paths shouldn’t really matter.

In wrapping up I should answer my own question. I think it is possible to be original. Of course it is. Worrying what other authors may or may not have written is likely to be a thankless if not impossible task. If you think of an idea and you know within yourself that you’ve never read the same plot before then it is original. What will then make it truly original is the spin and writing style which is rarely going to be the same between two authors. Possibly similar but surely never exactly the same. This is what I’m telling myself for now. Time till tell whether I am being naive.

6 thoughts on “A Question of Originality

  1. Emily Anne

    Don’t be deterred! When people say you can’t be original anymore, they mean plots. Some high brow literary folk will say there are only 7 plot-types in fiction and every story is a re-contextualization of those preexisting arcs. That doesn’t mean your story is any less valid. I personally believe the challenge for writers today is to contextualize the plots that work in relatable settings that illuminate some kind of truth. The tv show ‘Girls’, for example, doesn’t really do anything new plot-wise. BUT, it’s so so so realistic at points and is representing experiences that many people have in a new format. As a young woman in a creative writing major, I can say the show captures some things I wish weren’t true, but are. That’s the compelling part. Keep writing! Don’t give up! Just write something true.

    1. paulmclem Post author

      Thanks for your comments Emily. I agree with what you say and I definitely won’t be giving up. My only regret is not getting into creative fiction sooner. I can’t stop thinking of characters, stories, plots, worlds etc. Was just intrigued by the concept of originality. Thanks again for your thoughts. I really appreciate it when people take the time to respond in depth like you have.

  2. wilsonkhoo

    Don’t need to over-think things. To give an example of how adapting an older work can become a completely new thing, check out the inspiration and linkages between Bridget Jones Diary and Pride & Prejudice. The author literally stole her character personas out of the classic (she said that herself), but yet still managed to create a totally new and different experience.

    You can steal Hogwarts from J K Rowling and put into the world of Matrix and come up with a completely brand new world and story, and no one is going to complain as long as the work is solid.


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