What is Originality?

Posted June 21, 2011 by Kara in Uncategorized / 11 Comments

I had an interesting thought yesterday while my mind was wandering, and I thought it would make a good blog topic.

As a book blogger, not only do I write a lot of book reviews, but in order to hone my craft I read a lot of them too. And one of the things I regularly come across in the negative reviews I read is the topic of originality. The book wasn’t original enough. The idea wasn’t original. Etc. and etc. So here is my question for you, book readers.

What makes a book original for you and why? It’s a tough question isn’t it? Partly because I feel that there really aren’t any original ideas anymore. I can’t even think of my answer at the moment, but as soon as I figure it out, I’ll add it to the comments with you guys. You don’t have to answer right away if you need time to think. Take your time. But it is one of the things I’m really curious about.

11 responses to “What is Originality?

  1. Originality? What’s that? Seriously its rare, not extinct. But a point of fact is, James Cameron’s huge monster movie Avatar, was just the Pocahontas story substituting blue aliens for American Indians… lol Hollywood is so hard up for originality they remake the same movie over and over. As far as for books, original characters are needed… The stories are mostly the same.

  2. Perhaps it’s in the telling, or the presentation, rather than in the story. So, the standard girl-meets-boy scenario (forgive this but it’s the easiest to work with) will be different told by the girl, the boy, a friend, etc. Also very different when told by Jane Austen, Stephen King or Adele Parks. Or by people in different countries. Personally I think an original voice is the best a writer can aspire to – and these surely can’t be finite like the stories.

  3. I like that answer. Characters! I was drawing a blank for my answer. You totally hit the nail on the head. Original plots are hard to come by. But unique one of a kind characters can totally make a book worthwhile. I agree completely!!

    Winnsmith- I like that too. The writer’s voice. Everyone has a different life experience that goes into their writing. That can completely make a difference.

    Thanks guys!! Great answers!

  4. Uniqueness doesn’t arise from a new tale, but from a new way of telling. The world has always had a finite number of paths to trod. What changes is not the WHERE, what changes is the WHO and the HOW.

    Today’s lamentable lack of originality is simply a result of too many writers striving for success by chasing in the footsteps of somebody else. If it worked for so-and-so, it’ll work for me. Sadly, this is not true.

    Originality hides in the characters, both those created by a writer and the writer himself. When any characters pretend to be somebody else, the best they can hope for is to be mistaken for the persons imitated…

  5. There’s no such thing as an original idea, in my opinion. BUT there are twists on existing themes and age-old conflicts. I’ve heard that there are only something like 12 character “archetypes” that every single character in the history of characters fits into.

    Take an old idea but spin it in a different way, blend it with some interesting character archetypes (maybe ones you’d never expect would go together?), and I think you have an original story.

    Dr. E Paul Torrance defined orginality as something that the “majority” of people never thought of when presented with a certain stimulus. That doesn’t mean something that’s *never* been thought of, more like something rarely thought of.

    The Torrance Test of Creative Thinking presents a random shape and the test taker must make it into something different (all done on paper in the form of drawing). There are a slew of things that people commonly make – those objects are “unoriginal.” But anything not on a predefined list (normed) is considered original.

    Sorry – geeky gifted teacher rearing her ugly head. I’ll shut up now. 🙂

  6. I think when people complain (myself included) that a plot wasn’t “original” enough they mean the way its presented. I’m with you; I feel there’s a finite number of plots to be had in this world, but what makes them unique and interesting is how they are written.

    But when you read enough books with the same pattern, the same scene almost presented like Mad Libs was used to help write it… that’s when people complain. And why shouldn’t they? Readers need to have some identifying qualities to a book, some form of pleasure or stimulation upon finishing it.

  7. Characters definitely.

    Also, not so much the plot because so many times I’ve started to read a book and questioned whether I’ve read the book before…but more how the author uses a familiar plot but twists it around so that is is surprising and fresh.

  8. I agree with Kendall… Not much of anything is really original. The idea is to be you, as an author. What resonates with you? What conflicts, struggles, triumphs. Sometimes, a great story can hit like a bolt of lightening out of a mess of inner torment. Be ready to ride the creative wave and interpret the muse speak in a way that only you can. 😉

  9. I want to thank everyone for some great answers!! You’ve really given me something to think about in the future when I am writing my reviews! I didn’t expect this many answers! I love it! And the best part is I agree with all of you in different ways! This is a great reference to come back to!

  10. I completely agree with Mr. Hunt’s comment:

    “Uniqueness doesn’t arise from a new tale, but from a new way of telling.”

    If you don’t feel like you’re reading the same story over and over, that makes it original. It’s the way the story is told, the characters, the world that’s created that make it an original.

    If you have a sense the entire time you’re reading the story of “been there done that” then it is lacking originality. If you can get so absorbed into the story without noticing the basic structure then it’s done right.

    I think most readers want something at its core that is familiar. We love the “boy meets girl” theme or the “Romeo and Juliet” aspect to a story, we just don’t want to be comparing it to Shakespeare’s R&J the entire time we’re reading it.

  11. I agree with everyone else about the story needing to seem new, even if it’s an often reused idea. If I can name 2 or 3 other books that seem the exact same, it’s not original. If I can’t, then it’s original. How to make sure your story is original? I don’t know how to answer.

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