At a critique group meeting several years ago, one member expressed a concern common to all creative people. He wanted his work to be “original.” What did that mean? What followed was one of the most interesting conversations I had on the idea of originality and what it takes to be a true original with your work.
So what does it mean? I can only speak for myself–and I highly suggest striking up this conversation with any writers–but the most original concept in the universe is YOU. Yes, you. From your genetic makeup to your experiences to your view of the world around you, there is no one else in the universe exactly like you. You hold the secret to originality by just being the person you are.
How does this apply to writing? It has to do with a major buzzword, a cornerstone of what agents, editors, publishers, and readers look for and respond to in great writing. Your voice. Your voice as a writer is the soul of your work, the trait that defines it as yours and yours alone. That voice is influenced by you and your experiences, by the DNA that builds your life and makes it unique. Your voice is a manifestation of your style, the way you view the world, the way you respond to stimuli, the way you experience life.
When we tell stories, we work off the same human nature that has existed for millennia. Sure we might be in new settings, new characters, new situations, but we still pull from the same pool of human experiences. We talk about love and loss and fear and wonder and fury and betrayal and hope and triumph. This hasn’t changed in thousands of years. Even if you’re writing about another species, you still have to take from the same well of human nature as the rest of us to make it relatable. So how do you keep from writing the same core stories as everyone else?
The answer is you.
You see the world totally independent from everyone else. You feel things in a way that is uniquely yours. You experience life unlike the rest of us. Take those concepts we know so well and filter them through your eyes, mind, and heart, and the result will be truly yours. Afraid of using similar ideas from others? Filter them through your own unique vision. Give different cooks the same ingredients and you won’t get the same dish. Even if they all tried to cook the same thing, they wouldn’t create the same meal. Because your voice is yours alone.
I view true originality as the focusing of ideas and concepts through your personal creative lens, the lens you share with no one else. But what do you think? How do you define originality? What do you think makes a true original? Bring this up with your fellow creators and see the wonder we can produce. It’s one of the most fascinating discussions I’ve ever had.