On Being Original…
“That’s what she said.” You know you’ve heard it, or said it. The classic Michael Scott line from the hit show, The Office. It’s unbelievably unoriginal when you hear someone say it, but always hilarious.
I’ve had this blog post brewing for quite some time, unlike my coffee which brews fast and furious in my Keurig.
Have you ever heard: ‘How is your plot original?’ ‘Why is this different from ____?’ ‘That is SO overdone.’ <eye roll> ‘This character is exactly like ____. ‘
Hang on…stay with me, just a few more questions…
Have you ever heard of Charles Dickens or William Shakespeare? How about classic Greek tragedies like Medea and Oedipus Rex? J.R.R. Tolkien? C.S. Lewis? Bram Stoker? Mary Shelley? Anne Rice?
I’m sure you’re thinking, ‘Um, yeah, of course I have.’ Why am I asking such silly questions? I mention these famous authors/playwrights because most people have read their books or seen plays and movies depicting their work. In fact, there are many brilliant writers who have been inspired by these famous authors. Moreover, every novel I pick up reveals at least in part, some element(s) of the greats. It’s part of our heritage, it’s what we have been exposed to, it’s what we study in school, and its most importantly, what shapes us into writers of today.
A year ago I finished The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. It’s an excellent young adult read. I highly recommend it, if you haven’t read it already. In fact, go read it right now before you continue reading this post. Where have you been hiding? (SPOILER ALERT) Towards the end of the first book I was struck by a beautiful scene in which the two main characters clasp hands and choose to either win the Hunger Games together or commit suicide by eating deadly berries. They are granted a reprieve, and winners of the Hunger Games.
I love William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It’s a great love story and tragedy. The raw emotion I felt after reading this scene in The Hunger Games is a tribute to that. It reminded me of how much frustration I felt when Romeo and Juliet couldn’t survive their demise. They were so close! Suzanne Collins gave me the happy ending I wanted. Thank you. I already loved The Hunger Games, and that scene just tipped it over. Fantastic. This is one example of how our experiences in both first effects (our own personal readings) and secondary effects (others’ impressions of those readings) have an impact on our own writing.
A writer’s style is a compilation of his or her experiences. We write about what we know. How do we come to know things? We experience them. We read. We write. We experience. We read some more. We write even more. To say this isn’t so, or that we shouldn’t do this, is to go against human nature, and who we are as social beings. Short of sitting down and copying another author’s work (blatant plagiarism and a terrible thing to do), you write in YOUR OWN style.
Consider this: If you are approximately the same age, ethnicity, and gender as another author, and you appreciate and have read the same books and works, do you think you would also have a similar voice when writing? It’s very likely you would. We are, in large part, a product of our socialization and environment.
People have been writing unoriginal stories for centuries. Even the great Greek philosopher, Aristotle who wrote The Rhetoric, gathered ideas from his teacher, Plato. They had different views of persuasion, but in essence the teacher influenced the pupil. We write what we know or have experienced, even subconsciously.
Moral of the post- Don’t get down if someone tells you that your work is unoriginal, to some degree everyone’s is. It’s all about timing and balance, and honestly, a bit of luck. In fact, you just might get someone who loves your work because it does remind them of someone else’s. 🙂