Apr 18, 2011

O is for Originality

Originality is a big hang-up these days. One of the first things I tried to do when I first decided to become a writer (all the way back when I was about 11 or 12) was come up with totally new and unique ideas that had never been done before. Years have gone by and I've thought back to those ideas I had when I was so young. I learned something, too.

It had all been done before.

The dreaded "unoriginal" label is something all writers hope to avoid. This can lead to a belief that the best way to make it in this industry is to come up with the most amazing plot twists or a concept nobody else has thought of. Unfortunately, this isn't really the case.

There is a limit to the variety of plots and characters that can be used. The fact is that almost anything you can think of has probably been done before, and there's a reason so many tropes keep coming back. It's because they work. People like seeing them.

Certaintly, there's room for an unexpected twist or a really novel take on an old favourite, but by and large readers can lose themselves in a book much more easily if they're not trying to wrap their heads around your latest, greatest invention. When I write, I try to focus on telling a good, fun story first. Rather than coming up with unique ideas, I try to use established tropes well, or even apply them in ways that are just a little different from what may be expected.

So keep writing and keep working. Don't sweat it if you think your work is similar to someone else's. Don't worry if you can't come up with something new to happen to vampires when they're exposed to sunlight, or that you want to feature elves or dwarves in your fantasy novel. Concentrate on telling a good story, and telling it well. The rest will fall into place.


  1. Very sage advice, Paul. We can drive ourselves crazy with this stuff sometimes. Good to remember we just need to tell a good story and tell it well.

  2. Exeellent post, Paul. Totally agree that the most important thing is to tell a good story.

  3. Excellent advice. The one thing I'd like to add is that originality can come in the form of voice when you focus on telling a great story. So there is room for originality. It's just not in the conventional methods.

    Happy to meet you via the A-Z Challenge!

  4. Great advice. I've struggled a lot with worrying that if it's all been done before, what's the point? I'm finally realizing that putting your own personal spin on it makes a difference, and I like your point that the reason things come back is because people enjoy them, very true.

  5. Karen: We really can. It's a shame to see great writing sacrifice a good story for the sake of trying to be original.

    Paula: Thanks. Yeah, a great story can overcome anything.

    Jeffrey Pierce: You're welcome. :-)

    Jeffrey Beesler: Excellent point!

    GigglesandGuns: Thank you!

    Julie: The best thing to do is put aside your worries and just write. Once your first draft is done, then go back and see how it can be improved.

  6. so if it wasn't shakespeare, someone else would have come up with it, right? jk. good post
    Happy O day!

  7. Tara: Hehe, if you look back far enough, you'll see even Shakespeare re-told old stories. :-)

  8. Thanks for this post. It's something I think all writers struggled with and I have discarded ideas because I think they have been done too much.
    Maybe I need to look through those again...

  9. Definitely! You never know how well an idea will work until it's given a fair try.