Hey all! This is a topic that I’ve been wanting to work on for quite some time. Originality in writing is something that people strive for, it’s the goal. You want your work to be original and have a great hook and have an excellent story. But how does one have an original story in the year 2016? What qualifies as absolutely 100% original nowadays? It’s hard to say, right? Everything is drawing inspiration from something.
So where am I getting with this?
There’s no reason to get down on yourself for not feeling absolutely, completely, 100% original in your works.
But Laura, you’re a novelist, what do you mean you shouldn’t feel bad about being completely and utterly original?
So let’s sit down and get into the meat of this, alright?
there is nothing wrong with pulling inspiration from other sources
It is perfectly okay to be inspired by something. If a show/book/movie has inspired you, work on the idea, see what happens. That’s just how creativity works – you wind up taking little bits of inspiration from many little places. For instance, when I was younger, the TV show Dark Angel had a huge impact on my writing. It was my first exposure to cyberpunk, so that was huge for me. Amelia Atwater-Rhodes was a huge inspiration when I was younger as well – I enjoyed working with vampires and urban fantasy.
I let the sources inspire me. But I tried to make it my own. Granted, I didn’t get good at that until I was older. High school me wasn’t very good at making things mine, making them seem more original. It was something I learned with time.
What you have to learn is to not plagiarize. There is a difference between being inspired and ripping something off. Small shout-outs to things that have inspired you? A particular piece of media influencing you to write in that genre? That’s fine. Taking concepts, places, etc. without asking for permission or somehow changing it to make it your own? Less cool.
Though if you’re looking to publish fanfiction – Kindle Worlds is something to look at. I guess. I didn’t like the wording in the contract, but it might be nice for others?
realize that a lot of popular books/whatever are HIGHLY inspired by other things
A lot of books are inspired by Shakespeare (who was inspired by Greek plays). Not surprising, right? Shakespeare’s work had the appeal to both higher and lower classes, drama, humor…a little bit of everything. Moby-Dick was inspired by both Macbeth and King Lear. And the Bible. Brave New World is inspired by The Tempest (O’Reilly, 2014).
Okay, so books are inspired by other literary things, what about anything?
How about some video games? What about Assassin’s Creed? Apparently, the original game takes inspiration from the 1938 novel Alamut by Vladimir Bartol. The novel deals with a prophet and a group of ‘living blades’ – and the article I found mentions the ‘nothing is true, everything is permitted’ is lifted directly from the novel (Farokhmanesh, 2012). There are a few other games mentioned in the article that are inspired by books – like BioShock, The Witcher, Alan Wake, and The Binding of Isaac.
And there’s books that are retellings of fairy tales (Ella Enchanted, Cinder, Wicked), there are some that are retellings of classics (The Eyre Affair, His Dark Materials, Warm Bodies), and that’s only a small sampling. There are a lot out there.
And that’s not even going into the books that are outright fanfiction of other things. Which there are. I can’t find the post I want to find, if I do, I’ll add it later.
but how do you make things original?
Make it yours. It’s as simple as that. Don’t steal from other creators. You can be inspired as much as you want, but you need to make it yours.
For example – I’m really inspired by Fate/Stay Night. It’s what inspired me to start writing a visual novel (among others, to be honest, but it’s the big one). I love how expansive the Type Moon universe is and how well the urban fantasy works. There’s a lot to like.
My visual novel is urban fantasy. I wanted highly individualistic magic, like in Fate. But I made it my own. There are base spells that everyone can learn, people can have multiple specializations, magic isn’t carried down from mage to mage. But taking inspiration – there are bad endings, there are multiple routes, you can jump from one route to another (though it usually results in a bad end…?)
On the other hand, my NaNoWriMo novel from 2013 was heavily inspired by Attack on Titan. But I wasn’t able to make it my own. Not yet, at least. It’s an idea that I’m not sure what I want to do with yet, but I look back on it and I’m embarrassed. Maybe I’ll work on that idea again at some point, but I’m not sure.
After all, you’re not writing fanfiction – you’re working in original fiction. Pay homage, let yourself be influenced, but have your own ideas in addition to it. And please, please do not steal from other creators.
To make it original, you need to make it feel that way. You need to make it feel like it wasn’t ripped off from someone else (which you shouldn’t be doing).
- O’Reilly, S. (2014, April 30). Top 10 novels inspired by Shakespeare. Retrieved June 24, 2016, from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/apr/30/top-10-novels-inspired-shakespeare-herman-melville-patricia-highsmith
- Farokhmanesh, M. (2012, May 31). Five Popular Games That Drew Inspiration From Books. Retrieved June 24, 2016, from https://www.pastemagazine.com/blogs/lists/2012/05/five-popular-games-that-drew-inspiration-from-books.html