Rethinking Originality

Foxes and cubsWriters talk a lot about creativity and originality. We spend hours trying to come up with ideas that haven’t been seen before; many of us dream about writing the innovative work that changes the face of a genre forever. Seldom do we pause to ask ourselves why we’re on this quest for novelty. I think we should spend more time doing exactly that.

It’s true that people get bored when presented with the same information over and over again, and we often find ourselves believing that readers want to see something they’ve never encountered before. However, a quick scan of the best seller list will tell you that this assumption is mistaken. Time and time again, readers turn into books with familiar plots and common character types. That’s what it means to develop a preference in literature – you seek out a new book not just because it promises something different, but also because it promises more of the same.

So how valuable is that “something different?” And where does it come from? Obviously, readers want something in your story to be new to them. If it isn’t a unique setting or a bizarre, experimental narrative, then that something may well be your unique perspective on the world. This perspective shines through in your writing style, in the way you discuss the plot points, and in the way your characters interact.

It’s this intimate, unpretentious kind of originality that many readers are looking for in their next good read. Just as people are unique and interesting despite their similarity to each other, a story can be creative and original even if it is derivative in some ways. The important thing is to make your personality shine through the prose in such a way that your readers will be happy to count your work among their literary friends.