October 23, 2017, 12:02:15 AM

Author Topic: Originality is overrated (but still quite important)  (Read 282 times)

Offline Yora

Originality is overrated (but still quite important)
« on: August 26, 2017, 07:23:46 PM »
Originality. That dreaded haunt of the crative arts.

"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."
"All great stories have already been told."
"All art is derivative."
"Seen it."

I've been thinking a bit about it before my vacation and was reminded of it again by the Cliches thread. It's an interesting subject.
I start this thread as a very open prompt to a discussion. Does originality matter? How much does it matter? And what is originalitiy anway?

I think that the core of the issue lies in that there are really two different aspects to any story. The content, and it's meaning. And my believe is that pretty much any statements about every story already having been told is really about the content side only. There are only so many things that characters can do and things that can happen. And in regard to Fantasy in specific, there are only so many ways that magic can work or that you can make a monster. You can't really tell a story without building it from the same pieces that everyone else is using.
At least for fiction, I would support that all art is indeed derivative. I believe that storytelling evolved from giving accounts of actual events and then embelishing them for dramatic effect. And sooner or later (probably sooner) you got people telling stories that never happened at all from reusing the best parts of previous stories. You wouldn't be able to invent the adventure genre from nothing without falling back on accounts of actual noteworthy experiences.
Using dragons doesn't make a work unoriginal. Using battles doesn't make it unoriginal. Having orcs, swords, fire throwing wizards, evil chancelors, black knights, or princesses doesn't make it unoriginal. Something being "another version of X" does not constitute a valid argument for the lack of quality in my view. A story that is made up from elements that we don't see appearing in the same story very often might give the appearance of it being "fresh", but it's by no means any more original than something set in a version of medieval England with wizards, elves, and dwarves and is about stopping a dark lord from conquering the world.

Where originality matters is in regard to meanings. The Hero's Journey may be a standard plot, but there is infinite variety in what meaning you can give to all the events, how one thing affects another, what characters think about them, and how they react to them. I believe that this is what makes a story actually new and original. I think that a story becomes relevant when the author provides a new and original interpretation on those constantly repeating elements.
Maybe you think that a princess waiting to be rescued and not learning to be a skilled warrior can still have a meaningful life and is worthy of respect. Or that a slave boy can grow over the course of an adventure and find more confidence and still be a slave at the end. Or that a heroic and popular knight might end up being shaken by a life of war and not get over it. At the risk of getting totally mushy, everyone has a unique perspective on things which enables them to tell stories that nobody else could tell. And when they are presented in a sufficiently refined and polished way, we tend to be very much interesting by such different views on what should happen next in a story with a familiar setup, at least as long as those views don't repulse us. And when you start a story with a set of  ideas that is different from the set of other writers and keep building on those initial impulses, the resulting story will be one that has not been told before in this way.

When I think about ideas for stories, there are all kinds of challenges I very quickly find myself facing. But doubt that it's a story that people already know has never been one of them.
Spriggan's Den

There is nothing to read!

Offline Not Lu

Re: Originality is overrated (but still quite important)
« Reply #1 on: August 27, 2017, 06:23:32 PM »
I've always believed that there is very little original thought in the world, but there are infinite numbers of original experiences. People have varied reactions to a single idea, challenge, or object. I'm guessing this is what you call "meaning".

Great books have characters that react and think in original ways when faced with a familiar challenge... or as you put it: a new and original interpretation. I think you've nailed it. The hard part is coming up with original experiences.

Offline Skip

Re: Originality is overrated (but still quite important)
« Reply #2 on: August 27, 2017, 10:31:40 PM »
What is originality? Does it mean no one has ever seen it? Or does it mean that *I* haven't seen it?

How much originality is enough? Is it enough to have an original idea? Original prose? Original characters?

Too much is packed into that word to support any sort of answer. Or, rather, it will support every sort of answer.
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Offline cupiscent

Re: Originality is overrated (but still quite important)
« Reply #3 on: August 27, 2017, 11:19:58 PM »
I think I'm in general agreement. I dunno about "originality", and I think too much thinking about our experience/views/whatever as "original" can actually be bad for empathy, but definitely I like fiction that brings a freshness of perspective or of consideration to the human experience.

Offline Ryan Mueller

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Re: Originality is overrated (but still quite important)
« Reply #4 on: August 28, 2017, 03:19:27 PM »
I believe in taking the familiar and putting a few original spins on it. That is, the reader has the grounding in the fantasy elements they know and love, but you take those elements in a different direction than the reader expects.

Offline Skip

Re: Originality is overrated (but still quite important)
« Reply #5 on: August 28, 2017, 05:16:21 PM »
I don't know why this notion so occupies writers. You don't see it with painting or music, where the artist willingly acknowledges the influence of others. There's some of the nonsense in architecture, but they're a breed apart anyway.

Seriously, guys. This is a non-issue. Worry about quality. Let others decide about your originality. Chances are, you're not even fully aware of where you've been original.


Offline Ryan Mueller

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Re: Originality is overrated (but still quite important)
« Reply #6 on: August 29, 2017, 02:51:54 AM »
I don't know why this notion so occupies writers. You don't see it with painting or music, where the artist willingly acknowledges the influence of others. There's some of the nonsense in architecture, but they're a breed apart anyway.

Seriously, guys. This is a non-issue. Worry about quality. Let others decide about your originality. Chances are, you're not even fully aware of where you've been original.

This. Originality does not come from the elements you use in your story. It comes from the way you write that story. You can give two writers the same plot outline, and when they finish writing the book, I'd be willing to bet that the books would not read like the same book.