I FEEL THAT the writing process is a continual conflict between being original and retreading old ground. The catch is, that nothing is truly original. In music the same notes are used over and over again just in different combinations. Luckily with the English language we have hundreds of thousands of ways to tell a story, instead of being limited to a few guitar strings.
In theory creating an original story should be easy then. But it isn’t mostly due to the fact writing is largely constricted to genre. Sure, there are books written that don’t fit in to one, or maybe span several genres. However if you look at any bookshop offline or on, every book has been shelved according to a genre. Let’s say you are writing a vampire story. Not original. Vampires have ahem excuse the pun been done to death. No matter where you place the story, a vampire is not an original mythical being. An amputee vampire who has built immunity to sunlight and works a regular 9-5 – well – that is more original (and oxymoronic) but might inject something new into the genre and with a captivating story could be a great read.
What about a thriller/murder mystery? In a nut shell someone investigates a death or multiple deaths. Like vampires, that has been done countless times and yet people don’t tire of the genre because death in itself is a fascinating topic, something we all fear on some level, as well as something we prefer not to think about, our own mortality is a depressing subject to contemplate. But it is about the least original genre in existence. So how could it be done with originality? Again we can have different characters, different storylines and settings that make a given story different from another, but the core of the murder mystery is death and finding out who did it and why, a formula like no other, but if we are going to write by numbers, what is the point? That seems like a creative dead end. The kicker is publishers don’t want original, original doesn’t sell, or that’s what they say, because they can’t sell something without a pre-ordained market for it to be sold to.
On some level, the murder mystery genre is so basic that when I think about writing one, I feel like there is no point. It has been covered so extensively what could I possibly inject into it? That is when my borderline-OCD comes in when it comes to originality. Originality is to be strived for. Originality sets something apart from another. For me originality is the hallmark of great writing. And yet I’m full of shit, because originality doesn’t exist. No matter what character, story world, plot etc I use in a short story or novel, on some level it has been done by another writer. Might as well quit right now…
Well, not quite. Although I often battle the originality demons, there are innumerable ways to write a book. If you and I wrote a book constricted to 200 pages on the exact same outline, they would never be the same. And therein lies the key to fiction, the ability of any given writer to unlock a way to tell a new story even when the premise is often extremely similar to others. Dialogue, pacing, characters, imagery, plot, twists, story world to name a few; combine them with the almost limitless wonder of the richest language on earth and the combinations available to tell new compelling stories is near infinite. So what the hell am I complaining about!?
Do you struggle with trying to be original? What, if anything, holds you back when writing?