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Writing and Originality

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One question I get all the time is how do I make this idea more original? 

The answer is you don’t. The greatest thing I’ve learned in my writing experience is that originality is practically a myth. Plots can be put down in a list. So can tropes. A story that is too unique might be ahead of its time. Nearly all however in someways will draw on the literary tradition that came before it. 

Of course there are exceptions, but typically what we consider a unique story will have a long and old literary tradition, it just might have a medley of influences and inspiration that we haven’t yet seen come together in this way. I’m a big believer in Ezra Pound’s motto: “Make it new.”

This liberated me. When I figured this out, I realized I could write the story I wanted to write and could stop worrying if it was mildly kind of similar to something else I had seen once and hadn’t thought of until someone made the comparison.

As long as you’re not actively stealing from a world someone else has created and the world you’re envisioning feels real and different to you, you’re fine. If you’re noticing similarities and are self conscious, look into how much one particular fictional world is influencing your work. Try to keep the world you’re creating distinct in your mind’s eye. That is the best rule for me. If you’re having trouble with this, look at post-apocalyptic or dystopian novels as an example. Each book will have a somewhat similar setting just by their nature, but the authors’ individual imaginations will make them stand out as separate. 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 are great examples.

If you are worried that your work is too influenced by one particular book that inspired you, a great way to make it different is to bring more of your individual interests into it. What makes you as the author different? What is your perspective? What other things do you love that you can draw from?

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