Writerly Stuff: Words on Originality

I have heard time and again that there are no original tales to tell.  That may be true.  If you click on the tab “On Stories” above, you will find brief reads on competition plots, internal and external journey plots and relationship plots.  They are all basic plots, by no means comprehensive or all encompassing, but with a simple look you can see how the same basic plots have been used over and over again in story after story.  For example, how many versions of Beauty and the Beast can you think of?

Then there are characters.  While it is true that no two human beings are alike, we all share so much in common it is hard to distinguish one from the crowd.  We all know love, hate, fear, hope, and we share being born, aging and death.  It may be that along with stories there are no original characters.  Even the space aliens in science fiction and the fantastic creatures in fantasies share human characteristics – which is good because otherwise the reader would never be able to relate.

I was thinking of this the other day and remembered something worth sharing:  Originality is the fine art of remembering what you hear but forgetting where you heard it.  Naturally, I forget where I heard that.

It came to me about the same time as the quote that what makes a work original is all in the telling.  This is where the unique nature of the human species speaks.  No two of us will see the same story in the same way.  No two of us will see the same character from the same angle.  What makes a story original is not the plot or characters or even the setting.  It is the unique combination of these and the angle of presentation and voice of the teller.

Given that, it is a wonder to me that any writer or would-be writer cannot “think of what to write.”  Take a plot, any plot, fill it with people and tell it in your own way.  Take Beauty and the Beast.  Who is your beauty, and what makes them beautiful?  Who is your beast and what makes them beastly?  How is it that they come into contact?  What stands between them?  What must they overcome to be together?  Do they succeed or fail?  You know the basic story.  Tell your version, your story in your way and it will be original.  That is about as original as anyone can get, and remember, you heard it here first.

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