Am I Being Original?

I belong to two writers groups on Facebook and think the most frequently asked question, other than “What do you guys think about this…?”, is the one above. Today I replied to a post and said flat-out “No.”

How can we be original? There’s not one plot that hasn’t already been written. Basically they are: comedy, tragedy, science fiction, fantasy and drama. Nonfiction stands alone and carries elements of comedy, tragedy and drama. Fairy tales are fantasy. Mysteries fall into the drama, or depending on the narrative, comedy, category as do thrillers and romance. Farces are comedy. What writers do is take us to a comfortable world we already know and make it their own. And ours. We love to go there because it’s a place we know and have inhabited, on paper if not real life.

Here’s an example of two contrasting plots: The Chronicles Of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Both involve children going through a seemingly ordinary object to reach a realm of magic. In Narnia it’s a wardrobe, in Magicians it’s a clock. The characters have quests in both stories and face real dangers.

That’s pretty much where the similarities end. The Magicians is no book for children. It has foul language, sexual situations, alcohol and drug use. Grossman took the idea from Lewis but made an adult book of it. And Lewis borrowed the idea of travel to other worlds from other writers who came before him, like flying carpets and magic beans of fairy tales.

In other words, you can have three kids, instead of four, going through a clock to the land of Fillory but Grossman certainly couldn’t have had the Chatwins stepping into a wardrobe and winding up in Narnia.

Here’s another example: The Magicians and the movie 21 both have Time To Pretend as their opening song but you couldn’t say these shows are remotely alike. The only things they have in common besides the song are cards and the youth of their stars. 21’s producers would get laughed out of court if they took the producers of The Magicians to court for stealing the opening of the movie for their pilot.

Quit worrying about it. Don’t over-borrow. Don’t use the same character names, places and situations from another writer. Be creative and make your own. Plagiarism is defined by Merriam-Webster as “to steal and pass off the ideas or words of another as one’s own” or “to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.”

You can’t cover ground no one else has broken before but you can color it any way you like. Take us to your world and we just might not want to leave.

#deecaples, #originalwriting, #TheMagicians, #TheChroniclesofNarnia, #plagiarism, #originality

2 thoughts on “Am I Being Original?

  1. Let me preface what I’m not (given what I’m going to quote) which is not in any way shape or form a bible thumper, but by my upbringing I am familiar with the work to some extent. In fact I do try not to, but even a broken clock is right twice a day. So I quote it like any other old book I might know of, and with appropriate prefaces for how problematic (like many older works) the content can be, but it can be a useful point of context for how long people have been aware of certain things:

    Ecclesiastes 1:9
    What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.

    Ha, and here we all thought Battlestar Galactica was focused on Greek mythology, cycle of time, right there.

    12:12 goes on to comment about how (paraphrased as I always remember it,) to the writing of books there is no end.


  2. “…to the writing of books there is no end.” The Preacher was a wise man and very far seeing, wasn’t he? Ecclesiastes has always been one of my favorite books of the bible. All is vanity and vexation of the spirit here under the sun.


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