On Originality

(Or, its existence, which if is, is scarce)

What makes your novel unique?

They say it a lot, as if originality is a rite of passage a novel must go through. Chances are, though, not much. We all know the problem the modern writer faces: of writing the novel of our heart only to find that someone’s got there first or got their ‘big break’ with something so similar to yours.

It is devastating.

Recently, I was watching an old Doctor Who – The Time of Angels, in fact – for River Song kicks, when The Doctor mentioned the phrase ‘time energy’. Time-energy. What rather ravels the threads of my novel. Of the trilogy.

What’s more, there was a crack in time and people disappeared from memory.

‘Hang on,’ I said to myself, ‘wasn’t that the premise of my novel, the first draft of which I wrote five years ago…? Three before Doctor Who used it.’

It happens, and it’s a ruddy pain.

So, what’s a budding author to do? Well, for starters, consider the differences. Don’t get hung up on those similarities that must indeed stick out for you. My novel is set in an alternat/ive timeline, not the future. There is no one in Doctor Who who is trying to harvest the time-energy; it is purely wild. And, though, I mean my time-energy is wild, unpredictable, and partly antagonist, it can also be tangible when it wants to be.

It’s an entity, yo.

For others in a similar position to me – don’t give up! Don’t abandon your projects simply because there are others on the market with similar faces to yours.

That’s my advice, in any case. Make your novel yours, not anyone else’s.

Further, look with respect to those books and films and materials that are similar to yours. They help, they train – and you can support those who keep your genre and ideas thriving.

I wouldn’t even say the issue is genre-related; romance novels, for instance, still fall under the issue of the same plot, over and over. But, of course, a novel or fictitious story is not made solely of plot. For romance, it’s a little simpler to focus on the personality and quirks of your characters, but for science-fiction fantasy you could also give interesting traits that a reader wouldn’t suspect.

Don’t stick to stereotypes. That’s what the unoriginal is made of. I personally like subverting the tropes.

The writing, too, is the glamorous essence of reading a new novel. Voice. Imagery. Style. Those aren’t just buzzwords. And, unfortunately, voice is not something we can ever put words to so precisely. It’s the communication between the writer and their characters – a dash of each to the recipe that crafts the tone, vocabulary, even syntax of the story. 

The way a story is told can change anything. Make us forget what was similar.

It’s an unfortunate situation, I know – more than anyone, so it feels with my passion in temporal science, when every inciting incident is of people disappearing from time – but for writers facing this same problem, all I can say is that, though your story might not be the most original, you can paint something new with your characters and settings.

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One thought on “On Originality

  1. I think in some ways being unoriginal, but telling a different story (if you get me) is actually advantageous, especially in todays book market. People love to read in their genre, so being original per se isn’t always a bonus.
    But I love originality that’s what keeps me interested in fiction, keeps the creativity alive!

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