July 16, 2015 in Dag

It’s tough to be original when you’re being original

Well, of all the nonsensical blog post titles I’ve ever written, that’s possibility the most nonsensical of all. It’s tough to be original when you’re being original? What on earth is that supposed to mean? Has he finally lost all his marbles for sure?

I’ll try to explain the problem in a way that makes sense.

As anyone who follows my writing will know, originality is very important to me. I’m always trying to create stories that stand apart – stories that are like nothing else anyone has written before.

It’s possible that I’m giving myself too hard a goal.  It’s possible I’m setting expectations that would be impossible to fulfill, given that when it comes down to it, there are only a finite number of different stories that can be written. I don’t know, but I’m doing my best to find out.

Anyway, back to the question at hand. How is it so tough to be original when you’re being original?

Look at it this way. Lets take a popular genre – detective stories for instance. There are heaps of detective stories out there. If you should happen to write a detective story, nobody is going to criticise you for being unoriginal, just because lots of other people have already written detective stories. Instead, they would just say that you’re contributing to an established genre. And it would be pretty much the same for other well-known genres like romance or fantasy or sci-fi.

Now consider for instance the first story I published – Doodling. To be honest, I have no idea what genre it is. It’s about a man called Neville who falls off the world and then has a strange adventure as he wanders around an asteroid field meeting a variety of odd people (so I suppose it could be considered as a kind of fantasy).

Funny thing is, when a lot of people read it, they instantly compare it to another story. That story is pretty much the only other story I know where a character wanders from asteroid to asteroid meeting odd people – and you’ve probably already realised I’m talking about The Little Prince.

Funny how when you write a story that’s similar to lots of other stories, nobody bats an eyelid, but when you write a story that’s only similar to one or two other stories, there starts to be a suggestion that you’re not being original.

Anyway, I hate to sound like I’m complaining, so I suppose that’s just the price any creative person has to pay. In the meantime, I’ll just keep trying to create the most original and unique stories I can.

Who know – maybe some day, people will be comparing other writer’s stories to mine.


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Jim Murdoch July 17, 2015 at 1:34 am

I think part of the problem many artists have—it’s not just us writers—is that they create something unique and then try to replicate it which they manage to do although usually not quite as well and then they do it again and when they try to do it a fourth time they’ve either established a supportive fan base or bored whatever potential fans they might’ve had into looking elsewhere. You see it especially with popular musicians. The release a single that does well and they’re second single sounds exactly like their first one but with different words. It’s a brave—and usually very talented—artist who can grow AND hang onto his fans. Bob Dylan did it. The Beatles did it. Bowie did it. Elvis Costello did it. Paul Weller did it. We talk about a “successful formula” and therein lies the problem. Look at all the US comedies and cop shows that are templates. You could take The Mentalist out and replace him with Castle or Rizzoli and Isles and, with very little tweaking, the episode would be filmable as it stands. I can’t do that. My first two novels were essentially one big novel and that’s fine; there’s nothing wrong with a sequel. Trilogies are more problematic and once we’re into sagas, well, it’s hard to find any examples of true excellence there. Perhaps ‘In Search of Lost Time’. When I’d written the first few chapters of my third novel—the one I’m editing just now (I published the fourth out of sequence)—I got eight or nine chapters into it when I hit a brick wall because I realised that I was just rewriting my first two novels. Different protagonist, different foil, same plot. That’s when I set it aside and started on the short stories. Two years later I went back to the novel with a fresh voice and a completely new direction and now it works. It’s different to the first two but it’s still me. I mined a different aspect of myself to finish the book and I did the same with the last three. Problem is there’s only so much me to mine. I’m not sure how many more books I have in me or maybe that’s me done. But if I am then fine. Some people are only ever known for one book. Some people should only ever be known for one book. Some people only ever get known for a poem or a couple of lines from a poem. Who knows what will survive of us?

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Jonathan Gould July 18, 2015 at 12:00 am

I know how you feel, Jim. Forget about it being hard to be original. Sometimes it’s hard just being me.

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