I read once, “There’s no such thing as true originality.”
I was horrified. How could someone say there’s no originality in the world? What about the original way I put together an outfit? (I managed my mother’s dress shop at that time.) What about the way impressionist artists paint? The books innovative writers create?
The person went on to say everything is built on something else. All we can do is find a new way to copy someone (or something) else.
After pouting a while, I had to admit they were right. Whatever we do, we’re using something that’s already here, and we got the idea from something around us.
Reversing that, there’s no such thing as a perfect copy, either. No matter how hard a person tries, she can’t do exactly what someone else has done. No one is perfect, and few people can copy anything perfectly.
Even the monks who dedicated their lives to making perfect copies of the Bible made mistakes. Sometimes letters were backward or shaped differently. And sometimes they even left out entire paragraphs and had to start the page all over again. (Let that happen three times in one day, and wouldn’t it make you want to burn down the chapel?)
According to the big boys, there are only so many story themes.
Jessamyn West, an IPL volunteer librarian, says the seven
basic plots are:
1 – [wo]man vs. nature
2 – [wo]man vs. man
3 – [wo]man vs. the environment
4 – [wo]man vs. machines/technology
5 – [wo]man vs. the supernatural
6 – [wo]man vs. self
7 – [wo]man vs. god/religion
Interesting, isn’t it? Every story ever written can be boiled down to one of those themes.
There’s probably a list like that for romance stories, too. I can’t find it this morning. (Hint: if you plan to write and publish your blog in one morning, don’t research something like romance plots on the web, because you never want to come back and finish.)
Okay, trying to remember here because I couldn’t find the list. I’m talking themes such as “Secret Baby,” “Polly Pureheart,” (I’ll take your daughter or your ranch!) and “Miss Innocent meets and falls for Mr. Evildoer.”
But if there are no new plots or themes, how can we keep our books from sounding like a poor ripoff of someone else’s?
(Think GONE WITH THE WIND compared to the Bette Davis movie, JEZEBEL. JEZ isn’t a bad movie, and has great actors, but coming on the heels of GWTW, it’s very forgettable.)
My best suggestions–First we get deep into our stories so we can make them uniquely our own. Get to know the characters so well, we can expose the sparkle that makes every human special.
Be picky with word choices. Close isn’t good enough. As the one and only (at this moment in time, anyway) we’ll be really good to them by feeding them only perfect words.
Do something different with our metaphors and similes. (The first thing that comes to mind is usually what we’ve heard again and again, till readers are ready to blow chow.) So look for something different.
“Ever had a day that felt like you’d tried to put socks on a rooster?” (Jamie Deen)
“Careful as porcupines making love.”
How about, “A day without orange juice is like a day without hives,” or “She was stuck on him like a tongue to a frozen pole.”
Maybe, like the man said, we can’t be totally original, but we can make our versions shine!
Just remember, don’t be boring. 🙂