Originality in literature

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ashtolga23
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#1
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I feel like all the ideas I have for writing have already been done.

I was beginning to get quite proud of my EPQ (it’s an artefact so I’m writing a story), but my teacher recommended ‘Brave New World’ as he noticed similarities. This is a book I’ve of course heard of, but never really ventured into its contents before. Turns out, Huxley got to most of my ideas before me, as far as I can tell. This seems to happen every time I have ideas.

This reminded me of the similarities between ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (the latter of which I sometimes joke is just a feminist reworking of the former). I love both books dearly, so is it sometimes okay to have similarities if your message differs, or you think you have something to add?

I’m not gonna lie, I’m feeling a little demotivated to carry on with my own work, but I really need to get a move on. Obviously it’s just an EPQ so even if it wasn’t good as a novella, the marks are going to come mostly from the production and research and so forth, but people really seemed to like my ideas and I’d even thought about it becoming something more. I really wanted to gather opinions about this and see what everyone else thinks. So, I leave it to you.
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artful_lounger
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(Original post by ashtolga23)
I feel like all the ideas I have for writing have already been done.

I was beginning to get quite proud of my EPQ (it’s an artefact so I’m writing a story), but my teacher recommended ‘Brave New World’ as he noticed similarities. This is a book I’ve of course heard of, but never really ventured into its contents before. Turns out, Huxley got to most of my ideas before me, as far as I can tell. This seems to happen every time I have ideas.

This reminded me of the similarities between ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (the latter of which I sometimes joke is just a feminist reworking of the former). I love both books dearly, so is it sometimes okay to have similarities if your message differs, or you think you have something to add?

I’m not gonna lie, I’m feeling a little demotivated to carry on with my own work, but I really need to get a move on. Obviously it’s just an EPQ so even if it wasn’t good as a novella, the marks are going to come mostly from the production and research and so forth, but people really seemed to like my ideas and I’d even thought about it becoming something more. I really wanted to gather opinions about this and see what everyone else thinks. So, I leave it to you.
There have been arguments (books published by academics on the matter!) that there are only ~30 odd plots in the world and all stories are a variation of those. The key word though is variation; even if the difference is small, there is a difference, and that small difference in plot or narrative style can represent enormous differences in the social context in which the piece was written. Also the concept of "anxiety of influence" is I gather, fairly influential in literary criticism as well (i.e. that concerns of what people did before them influences what writers actually write, I think is the gist of it - I'm not a literature student though ). So I guess, it's not just you and also it's not such a bit deal, and don't worry about it too much?

Original writing doesn't mean "brand new", it can also mean approaching something known from an unusual perspective (this applies both to creative writing and also academic writing). Your example of the Handmaid's Tale here applies - feminist approaches in recasting those kinds of stories were not (at least at the time of publication) as prevalent perhaps, so in that way it is quite groundbreaking, despite not necessarily being a "new" story. Bear in mind also that writing (i.e. creative writing) is not purely about the plot or directly written stuff. The kind of language used, particular narrative structures and forms for the writing, allusions and subplots relating to other issues or themes, etc, all contribute to the work and the originality of the work. Also by employing these things, you may end up developing something more original in of itself.

You could apply an unusual narrative style for a particular genre for example:
Spoiler:
Show

Epistolary form for science fiction - I can't think of any works off the top of my head which use that approach (maybe it got used in one of Asimov's short stories?). However using that narrative opens questions about the world setting; are they physical letters, emails, some other form of messaging (if it's messages being sent across interstellar distances, there is a great time lapse between them unless they use some other technology to send at FTL or near light speed), and how does that form influence the content and structure of such a "letter"? If the character knows their message won't arrive for years, how will that change what they decide to write in it compared to sending a postcard that would arrive in a few days? This structure then influences the content of the story, and also is in of itself something a bit "different".
Last edited by artful_lounger; 6 months ago
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ashtolga23
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(Original post by artful_lounger)
There have been arguments (books published by academics on the matter!) that there are only ~30 odd plots in the world and all stories are a variation of those. The key word though is variation; even if the difference is small, there is a difference, and that small difference in plot or narrative style can represent enormous differences in the social context in which the piece was written. Also the concept of "anxiety of influence" is I gather, fairly influential in literary criticism as well. So I guess, it's not just you and also it's not such a bit deal, and don't worry about it too much?

Original writing doesn't mean "brand new", it can also mean, approaching something known from an unusual perspective (this applies both to creative writing and also academic writing). Your example of the Handmaid's Tale here applies - feminist approaches in recasting those kinds of stories were not (at least at the time of publication) as prevalent perhaps, so in that way it is quite groundbreaking, despite not necessarily being a "new" story. Bear in mind also that writing (i.e. creative writing) is not purely about the plot or directly written stuff. The kind of language used, particular narrative structures and forms for the writing, allusions and subplots relating to other issues or themes, etc, all contribute to the work and the originality of the work. Also by employing these things, you may end up developing something more original in of itself.

You could apply an unusual narrative style for a particular genre for example:
Spoiler:
Show

Epistolary form for science fiction - I can't think of any works off the top of my head which use that approach (maybe it got used in one of Asimov's short stories?). However using that narrative opens questions about the world setting; are they physical letters, emails, some other form of messaging (if it's messages being sent across interstellar distances, there is a great time lapse between them unless they use some other technology to send at FTL or near light speed), and how does that form influence the content and structure of such a "letter"? If you know your message won't arrive for years, how will that change what you decide to write in it compared to sending a postcard that would arrive in a few days? This structure then influences the content of the story, and also is in of itself something a bit "different".
This is amazing to hear, thank you!

I’ll have a proper look into the “anxiety of influence” concept. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all of this.

That definitely makes a lot of sense. It’s hard for something to be unique, but I suppose different takes are just as important. On a less academic scale, we even sum up many romances as “boy meets girl”, so I guess there often is a running theme in similar genres.

I’m so grateful for your suggestions!

Thank you once again, and have a wonderful evening! <3
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