The Originality Complex

We’ve all seen it before. Thousands upon thousands of sparkly vampires, superhero squads, zombie invasions, WWII FPS games that copy Call of Duty to a T. That’s not you. You’d rather stand out, be the rebellious one. You have to be original. An idea so completely unique that it’ll become synonymous with you.

So you spend months crafting the perfect idea, the most original story you can think of that literally no one else has done. The perfect story.

Except you run into a few problems.

—It’s not interesting enough
—It’s TOO original.
—It’s so niche that it might not even be worthy of self-publishing

or worse

—It actually has been done before by someone else.

I think Authors are looking too hard at being truly original when they only have to put in their own personality to make a story unique.

“But Steven,” you say. “I’m not original enough to write something that stands out! All I know is how to write sparkly vampire zombies.”

And therein lies the problem. It’s not your lack of originality that’s the problem. It’s you. After all, for a time, sparkly vampires were the big craze. Surely you had to be part of it, right? Except no one really cares about that anymore. People have moved on to another new niche. Perhaps they want sparkly zombie dinosaurs from an alternate Ancient Rome instead.

So how can you stay ahead? Easy. Be yourself.

“That’s it?” you ask. “No sage advice? No harsh truth? None of this motivational writing advice you get from the likes of Stephen King or Maya Angelou?”

Nope. Just honesty and a little creativity.

Something I’ve come to realize is good stories don’t have to be super unique to be good. In fact being too unique comes off as forced and felt like a creator crammed in too many good ideas at once that don’t mesh well together. Sure, no one wants the same old-same old, but also, no one wants to read a book so out there that it feels uninspired and makes no sense.

My advice? Don’t be original. Be different.

Perhaps one of the more well known examples is how Disney’s The Lion King draws heavily on the Shakespeare classic Hamlet. The plots might share numerous similarities, but they are uniquely different. Or how about the Shannara series by Terry Brooks. A fantasy world with a blend of tech and magic set in a future Earth after a nuclear apocalypse. I can think of one video game that draws similarities.

Sony released a game not too long ago called Horizon: Zero Dawn. It’s has a very tribal, Native American feel but takes place in a very distant future after the fall of Earth thousands of years later. Yet it’s a blend of advanced technology in a very fantasy-esque setting.

In fact, if you’ve read stuff like The Hero’s Journey or Save The Cat, you’d realize how many stories share similar plot lines. Star Wars follows the Hero’s Journey to the letter and became an iconic IP for decades. Heck, even Lord of the Rings follows such a plot line.

Yet Star Wars and Lord of the Rings are very different in their own right. Magic, long quests, a band of unlikely allies, you name it. Even something you think is original might have been based on something else.

After all, that’s how writers get their ideas.

To make a story completely original means removing all the tropes, archetypes, settings, and everything else that makes up a book. Especially true for Genre fiction. There is a thing as being too different, but the key is being different enough. Stand out from the copycats so that one day, budding authors will be copying your story.

So something to get out of this would be: don’t panic if your story isn’t fully unique. Tell the story the way YOU want it to be told. Also, it helps to avoid a lot of the common clichès that most readers roll their eyes at.

If you want an idea, Strange Horizons, an online spec fic magazine, has a nifty resource here of stories they see far too often. Do any of them match your story plots? If so, you might have to fix your story a bit to make it work. Some of those ideas can work, but only if you feel confident in going the extra mile.

What do you do when you can’t find inspiration? Do you doubt your capability to be unique and different? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

That’s all for today. Take care, and remember, the inn is always open.

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