Wednesday, April 10, 2013


We often hear that there are no new stories and everything is derivative of something... and yet there's still so much pressure when starting a new book to be original.

I actually love thinking about new ideas and they always seem so shiny and exciting to me when they arrive in my little brain. Until I start talking to other people. Then they start to sound derivative or unoriginal or cliché. Or worse, all three.

I know this is part of the process, especially if you're pushing yourself to be better, and I do think it sounds smart to discuss new ideas with people you trust who are smart about storytelling and the market before investing too much time in the actual writing part, but even that is no guarantee of originality... (For example, it's kind of funny (and disturbing) to me that Deviants has been called derivative of books I've never even heard of, never mind read...)

And for me, discussing an undeveloped idea too much creates the risk that others (CPs, agents, close friends) see it through their own lenses with their own histories of reading and/or their own writers' voices and story preferences, and what I thought were my original ideas get lost or buried, at least. Often, I think, because I'm unable to articulate my ideas well, when they're still in development and fragile.

I'm definitely one of those writers who needs to write things down. I need to organize my thoughts and ideas, before I present them, rather than saying them aloud... And even then, I usually have open questions that could change everything...

And as a result, developing new ideas, for me, has gone from my favorite part of writing, to one of the most angst ridden and stressful parts.

But really, instead of whining about my mixed up story ideas and scrambled brain, right now, what I meant to blog about is: how important is it to be original?

I mean, 10 years ago, I thought it would be incredibly dumb to write about vampires, because Anne Rice (not to mention Bram Stoker) had already covered that ground so well. How could one possibly write another vampire book? And now I wonder why the hell I didn't write a vampire book back in 2004...

It's hard. But I think that we (and by we, I mean me at this very moment of my process) need to trust that our unique writer's voice will bring things to the table which will sound fresh even if others see similarities to other stories.

And back to originality... What's amazing to me is how everyone sees similarities to different things, depending on what they've read, or what books have stuck with them, or resonated, or what images pop into their imaginations when they hear the scraps of your story idea before it's formed.

Is it possible to be truly original? Am I chasing unicorns??? Hmmm... unicorn story idea... joking... sort of.


Stephanie Doyle said...

My favorite line about originality is the one that... there are only seven origional storylines... and Shakespeare did all of them... something like that.

I don't think striving for originality is chasing rainbows... but I do think to an extent everything is slightly derivative... it's what you do with the derivation... I really have no idea if I used that word correctly - but you get what I mean right?

Or because I'm reading Kristen Ashley I have to say it like this... "You feel me, right?"

I've asked my employees at least 3 times today if they "feel me".

I'm fairly certain I'm being written up for sexual harassment charges.

Anonymous said...

Steph, so right, it's whether you can make an idea seem fresh and original, even though there are no original ideas left anymore..

And Maureen, brainstorming is hard, especially when trying to come up with the one great idea... because there's no pressure in that... none at all.

Maureen McGowan said...

Steph, your sexual harassment worries made me LOL.

Yeah, Sinead... I think I need to simultaneously be more open to other people's ideas and own MY ideas more than I do. It's a balance. Once I have yet to figure out. :)

I went into Sunday thinking I had two ideas to choose between. I didn't really explain either of them properly, and came out with a third idea that doesn't resemble either of mine and doesn't fit with any of the things I liked from the others... But I'll work it out. Ideas are good. :)

And I so appreciate that I have people like you to help. :)

Anonymous said...

Nice post, Maureen. And I've found that nothing deflates a story idea faster than sharing it with others. I was so excited about this suspense novel I was writing and so I shared the first chapter with my mother. Okay, so maybe that was an obviously bad move - lol! So when she said, "Oh, I saw that same story in a movie on TV the other day," well, that deflated that idea forever.

Molly O'Keefe said...

it does feel like what has always been one of our strengths - brainstorming - has gotten bogged down in something. Fear, negativity - something. I'm the worst culprit of this.

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