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Originality in Writing is Over-Rated

People are stupid. Really, really stupid. And this isn't me pretending to be Khepri or Mina, looking down in disdain on all the poor, ignorant peasants around me (you'll get that reference later) - I am 100% including myself in 'people' here. And this isn't to say that people aren't wonderful creations of God, beautiful, unique, brilliant and individually filled with huge potential. I believe every one of those things is true, but we are also stupid.

For example, I once lit a match in church, during the service. Why? Because it was there, obviously. What else was I supposed to do with a match? Don't worry, I didn't burn down the building or anything, it was just an incredibly dumb move. And it wasn't all that long ago, either. (More than a year, but definitely while I was a teenager, not a young child.)

But doing dumb things isn't the only way in which humans prove that we're idiots. We also forget important lessons, and this is the tendency that I'd like to talk about today.

I think a lot of people think they aren't allowed to write if they don't have an original idea, which is just ridiculous. There is nothing new under the sun. (By the way, did you know that that saying is from the Bible? Ecclesiastes 1:9, if you're interested.) So, no, your idea isn't original, because you are not a clean slate. You have influences from all sorts of places, some of which you are aware of, but most of which you probably aren't. They will come into your work, in anything from the mechanics of your invented world to the quirks of your main character. But that's okay.

See, the important thing isn't how new your idea is, it's how you write it. It's how you craft the characters, how you communicate truths and how you make the reader fall in love with your fiction, only to be called back into the 'real world', able to look at it a little differently. And that's the thing. We can get so caught up in world-building and plot twists that we lose sight of the novel itself and the story we want to tell through it. I always need to remind myself that my book isn't just for me, nor is it just for me to laugh at other people while they read it. It should be to teach them something, remind them of something they already knew or give them a new way of looking at the world. The reader should come away from it feeling something - other than irritated because it's a bit of a cliffhanger, I mean. They should be able to connect on some level to one or more of your characters and through them experience a world that is not their own, but which reveals some truths that they can bring back into 'real life'. It should be these truths and the truth of the characters that you create which stand out, not just the crazy new world you built. Because no matter how much you thought about the implications of a planet with a gravitational acceleration of 5 m/s2 instead of Earth's 9.8 m/s2, the story won't be compelling without characters and a plot to match.

It is at this point that people's general stupidity comes into play. Because the 'moral' of your story won't be original, either, but that's not just okay - it's good! People forget things. They forget to be patient or truthful or self-sacrificing, because that's the most convenient way to live life. We as a species need to be reminded of the basics. All the time. If you can slip it to them through a plot involving dragons, crocheting and talking chairs or whatever mayhem you have planned, then that's perfect. People don't need new messages - most of the good ones have been around for a very long time already - they just need lots and lots of reminding. It's how we are.

And that's why I think originality in writing is over-rated. So, the next time you find yourself worrying about how much of a cliché something is, dig down beneath the surface of that cliché and find what made it valuable to begin with. Instead of throwing out the idea totally, try to recraft it and give it a new spin, then send it back into the world as a reminder of what's important. Unfortunately, originality - or at least uniqueness - in titles is really quite important and this is by no means the only article or blog post written on this exact subject. But then, people are stupid. You probably needed reminding anyway.

-Jo
Soli Deo Gloria
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