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.

Conventionality vs. originality

719082Creative people tend to be free thinkers. Writers especially, generally speaking, are very unorthodox people, in the way they think, live and work. This can often not only be in our daily lives, but also extend to our work. Which brings us to today’s question: if you are writing genre fiction or anything for a specific audience, should you stick entirely to the conventions? Or can you reach your target audience/fit your genre whilst still putting your own spin on it?

Well, this puts you in a pickle that is familiar to most professional writers. Do you write exactly what your target audience wants, following the conventions of your genre to the letter, even if it’s not interesting or pleasurable to you? Or do you do follow your own rules, write what you want to write and enjoy a small (but very loyal) fanbase?

This entirely depends on where your interests lie in the bigger scheme of things. Do you want to write something purely because it will sell? Or does this sound more like selling out?

If you are aiming to one day make a living off of the books you write, then you will have to write something that is likely to sell well, no matter your feelings towards the genre or audience. If you don’t want it to be connected to your usual brand of writing, then use a pseudonym to disguise you. The only potential problem with this is having to market two different writers, which can be time-consuming. However, it may also turn out to be a blessing in disguise. If your ‘money-maker’ book gets popular and you find a lot of people following you (under your pseudonym) on social media sites, you can use this to your advantage to promote the writing you do for love, not money. It will just look like one writer recommending another writer to their fans – see? Sneaky, but effective. This way, you can draw in people who may not have discovered your writing otherwise and maybe even end up with a whole new group of fans!

So to conclude: conventionality usually (but not always) sells well, originality usually (but not always) doesn’t sell as well. A ‘Billionaire’ erotica e-book, for example, will sell better than a romance set in a space station. If the latter is what you like to write, then go for it. Always write what you love and believe in it. But writing the more conventional, popular stuff, even if you don’t like it, can aid your writing career in many ways if you are prepared to do it.