Originality… this may disappoint some people, but it doesn’t really exist anymore. It’s all been done! Everything! Every idea out there! Originality is no longer a matter of has it been done before so much as how can we put a new twist in it. I had a friend that thought he was doing something new with this mirror verse idea until he told me what it was and then I had to explain that there was a Star Trek book out there that my dad owns that had a mirror verse and that the idea of a mirror verse had been around since mirrors were invented. Needless to say he was pretty upset because he thought he had something that no one had ever thought of before and it turned out to be a very popular idea he’d actually heard about in the form of alternate realities.
The other day I was working with one of my characters and talking to my dad. This character’s mother was an elven princess. When there is an elven princess in a fantasy story a lot of the time she ends up having been raped. You can’t throw a stick these days without hitting a raped elven princess, so of course because I wanted this character to have a tragic back story that was what I had written down in my notes. My dad looked at me and asked “Why can’t the elven princess just fall in love? and why is it always a human man raping an elven girl why not an elven man raping a human woman?” (I honestly can’t believe I had this conversation with my dad or that I’m writing about it but as tragic back stories go rape is one of the worst.) I looked at my dad and said you’re right. I can give him a tragic back story but still have him born out of love and you know what for a change the father will be elven not the mother. Now, you may ask what part of this was the cliché? The answer; that the elven princess was raped, the mother was elven not the father. And guess what! Solving those clichés took me to more clichés like having both parents die or having my character grow up fatherless.
Okay so I’m going on and on about my character but the point I’m trying to get across is that it’s all been done. The real question anymore is how often it’s been used and in what combination can you use these ideas that other people haven’t. And to be honest I really can’t tell you how to be original because originality is all in your head. It depends on your own creativity and ingenuity.
Here are a few tips and tricks that can help, though I can’t guarantee that they will work for you.
Write Things Down! I know that it sounds cliché but it works. I keep a little black book (not a hit list) in my purse and a large notebook by my bed and whenever an idea hits I write it down. It doesn’t matter if I’m reading, sleeping, out with family/friends, or walking in the woods. If it catches your attention take just 30 seconds to jot it down, even if you have to do it on your palm or arm. (I used to come home with an arm that looked like it belonged to a Yakuza member because of this.) You’ll be surprised how many “original” ideas come from this.
Read the Newspaper, watch the News, and Go People Watching! Let’s face it, people are idiots and they’re always doing something that can be branded as a new type of stupid or crazy. If you read the New York Times, or The Chicago Tribune every day for a month and still can’t write anything “newish” I’d find a new line of work.
Before you get set to write think: how “original” is this really? how often do people read something like this? No matter how original you think it is you need to do your research, run the idea by family or friends and see if they know of anything like it. (my dad does this for me sometimes and can rattle off several things he’s read that follow the same basic line. If he can give me more than 10 I know that it’s hopeless.) If it isn’t an “original” idea change it, tweak it, just a little bit, it doesn’t have to be a complete overhaul, just something different like an alternate timeline in which Hitler was never born (you are welcome to use this idea if you like, alternate history isn’t really my cup of tea) the general plot can stay the same but something like this can change so much. Here is a link to a website that can explain how something so small can change so much; http://fractalfoundation.org/resources/what-is-chaos-theory
So that’s originality for you. It doesn’t exist in its original form anymore. It has evolved into a new form of being that requires twisting and bending and tweaking to resemble its old self. If you can bring me something that is completely and utterly new I’ll be shocked. All ideas have been used, you just have to find a way to use them differently.