I’ve always been taught that the best work I can do is the work that comes from me, and while I see some value in this line of thinking I must confess that I have always been a little skeptical of it. I didn’t write The Count of Monte Cristo or The Three Musketeers. In fact, I haven’t written anything that could be considered staple literature for reading. Sure, the things I write might be enjoyable to read, but there is something about the classics that makes them what they are: great. I’m not here to tell you what that something is, but I think if we are being honest with ourselves we should admit that it is perfectly okay, and even recommended, to copy those authors and their pieces of literature. We want to accomplish what they accomplished and be as great as they are and I don’t think we can honestly expect to get there without trying, in some capacity, to copy them. Obviously, don’t plagiarize. That’s a far cry from what I’m saying. What I am suggesting is to try to copy those concepts which you enjoy the most about a particular book or author. A carpenter doesn’t get better by trying to teach himself, he advances by imitating his master’s work. What I am suggesting is no different from this.

ChairThat being said, some degree of originality must be kept or else a story or an element can become bland to the readers. We must do our own work while also following in the footsteps of those we strive to be like. To bring it back to the carpenter analogy; a carpenter is probably not looking for a new way or shape to make a chair, but is instead looking for how to turn the basic chair into his own masterpiece. Likewise, I say we need to imitate concepts, like the concept of a chair, but make the content our own. We aren’t trying to reproduce the same chair that another carpenter made; what we want to make is still obviously a chair, containing all the nuances that go in to making a chair everything it should be, but we want to make it in a way that is obviously our own.

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One thought on “Being Original in a World Where Everything’s Been Done Before

  1. Humm, your analogy is limited in that the physical limits of a chair are defined by the human body, or at least should be! The limits of a story are much broader than this. I agree that it is important to include both insightful and delightful characterizations, illuminate something universal about the human condition, and teach some moral truth and do it excellently well to reach close to the classic level, but that is way broader than the height and back angle of a chair.

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