Engaging Creative Writers Avoid the Obsession With Originality
Welcome to Part #3 of the “You Can’t Please Everyone” series, where we’re discussing how you can’t make all your readers happy… but you can strive to engage as many readers as possible.
Part #1 introduced the topic. And Part #2 discussed the importance of varying your sentence structure.
That second one might sound boring, but I intensely urge you to read it anyway. It can make a huge difference in how your audience perceives you and therefore receives you.
As for Part #3, today we’re talking about avoiding the obsession with originality. Ignoring this advice is a common creative writing issue and one of the most pointless pursuits on the planet.
I’d say it’s right up there with trying to fit a square peg into a round hole except for one problem with the comparison. In certain circumstances, those shapes could make sense.
For instance, if the square peg is smaller than the round hole, mission accomplished!
In the case of trying to be the epitome of authorial creativity though? I can’t think of a single success story out there.
Did you know that Shakespeare himself – the Bard of Avon whose works have survived for centuries to be loved and cherished to this day – wasn’t original? For that matter, neither was Homer far before him.
As King Solomon said ages before even Homer, there’s nothing new under the sun.
This isn’t to say you can’t have creative elements in your story. Unless you’re copying and pasting someone else’s work word for word, there are going to be aspects of you there.
And since there’s only one you, your work will automatically be original in some way, shape or form. It’s just that whatever way, shape or form we’re talking about probably isn’t plot.
Actually, I’d go so far as to say that it absolutely isn’t plot.
You see, plots all revolve around the same human desires: love, life, possessions. That’s pretty much it. (And if there is something I’m missing, it’s been done before too.)
Obviously, we can expand on the love, life, and possessions list.
Is it romantic love or spiritual love, or love of a friend? Or maybe love of king and country instead?
As for life, there’s physical life and there’s quality of life. And with possessions, think treasure hunts and land conquests.
Bottom line though: It’s all been done before. Trust me.
Also trust me when I say that it's perfectly fine like this. Really.
Not producing some utterly original work simply means that you’re human. As I wrote back in 2017:
It’s perfectly okay to accept the fact that you’re one single piece of the fabric of humanity. You share the same basic biology as everyone else; you make an appearance in this world and then leave it like everyone else; and you have the same basic desire to be fulfilled as everyone else.
Therefore, what you write is going to be an expression of that humanity.
For that matter, the same will apply to your characters too.
It doesn’t matter whether they’re people, animals, aliens, or some other entity. They’re still going to have some range of the same human emotions you yourself are so used to navigating life with.
Joy. Sadness. Anger. Fear. Disgust… You can’t write about something you don’t know. And we all know the same things when you strip us down to the basics.
But who cares?
Truly, the answer should be: “Not me!”
As implied before, the real question is has it been done before by you. If the answer is no, then go for it – with special emphasis on those last three words.
Because that’s the real problem with obsessing over originality in creative writing. Since it’s not obtainable, it means that the person pursuing it will either resort to delusions of grandeur…
Or not write at all, a fate too common by far.
Oh yeah, and neither one is engaging.