cave canem

Cave Canem- Beware the Dog

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Flurry of Snowflakes (A Rant on Originality)

Filia Caniculae: Now with pictures!

So, originality.

People have this idea that they tend to throw around a lot. It goes as follows: Since the scope of human experience is limited, there is a limit to the amount of originality that can be put into stories. Some people have gone so far as to attempt to list all the possible plots that stories can have. This is taken to mean that original storytelling is, in essence, impossible.

I would like to call bullshit on on this idea right now.

Yes, people are limited. In our experiences, in our thoughts, and in our storytelling, there are a finite number of possible plots, characters, and so on.

Because, as we all know, a story is only made up of one single plot element.

These plot elements of which there are so few? They are nothing more than building blocks. There may be a finite number of blocks, but there are infinite combinations. In fact, story elements are less like blocks and more like thread- you can weave different elements in different ways, change things, make them interact in new ways; in fact, startlingly original ideas can arise from even the most cliched places. Just look at Terry Pratchett's Discworld series; he took the overplayed standard fantasy world and turned it into one of the most unique, colorful worlds I have had the pleasure of reading about.

 Can we just take a moment to appreciate genius? Yes, yes we can.

So, originality is possible. So, isn't it just naturally, inherently good and advisable? You'd think so, wouldn't you? Some people, though, don't seem to follow the same line of thought. I am often disappointed, even disturbed at the number of people who advocate a follow-the-leader approach to creative work. After all, original ideas are too risky. What if nobody likes it? You should just stick to what's worked for other people, right?

God dammit.

Yes, it's true that being original is a risk. But you know what? Art is a risk. You can't say that you want to be a writer, a musician, any type of artist at all if you're afraid to stick your neck out for your craft. You can't go into any artistic pursuit expecting it to be safe or comfortable. You have to be willing to try, to fail, to expose yourself. If you try something original and nobody likes it, then at least you tried. At least you attempted to make a contribution to the world instead of falling in step like another forgotten pop star or still life painter.

And here's the thing; originality has a huge chance of paying off.

You know who gets remembered? People who are different, who break the mold. Look at some of the writers who are popular today. J.R.R. Tolkien created a fictional world that completely changed the way fantasy is now viewed and written. Andrew Hussie, creator of Homestuck, used the multimedia potential of webcomics in a way that few if any people had ever attempted before. Jane Austen mingled romantic drama and social commentary in a fresh break of Victorian literary traditions that has won her a permanent place in the halls of the literary greats.

And also this.

Basically, what I am saying is, I wish to all hell that people would just use their freaking brains once in a while rather than hiding behind a flimsy excuse. Original ideas pay off, so maybe put a little bit of trust in them rather than saying that different = bad and scary. (I'm looking at you especially, pop musicians, big film makers, and other people who I'm pretending for rhetorical purposes are actually reading this.) Just take a chance.

Oh, by the way, I see some smartass in the back about to talk about how Shakespeare basically did nothing but rip off other people, and we as a society hold him up now as the greatest writer ever. I have a question for that person. Are you Shakespeare, bitch? No? That's what I thought. Sit back down

Every rule has an exception. I think Christopher Marlowe Shakespeare said that once.


  1. You know, it's weird. Looking at the link you left, I can see elements of my big project distilled into a few points on the list. That said, I totally agree with you; that list may hit on key bits like a plot based on ambition and discovery, but there's no way anyone can anticipate said story featuring ghost-punching and motorcycle chases.

    Also wrestling. Because...wrestling.

    "Basically, what I am saying is, I wish to all hell that people would just use their freaking brains once in a while rather than hiding behind a flimsy excuse."

    Hey, look on the bright side. I know at least one savvy blogger who's willing to branch out. Goes by the name of Helen...maybe you've heard the name?

    Anyway, a good read. Thanks for posting.