More Thoughts on Originality

Tombs of St Michans
Tombs of St Michans

Last week I wrote about originality and the retelling of a classic tale. My current story begs a similar question; when is an idea original? Are there any original ideas?

As per Neil Gaiman’s suggestion, I have a Compost Heap in my writing tool… a collection of incomplete ideas, characters, images, situations for use in a future story. Most of these are a character in a situation. One of my entries described a pill that would fast-forward time. I riffed on the idea and a clear plot and characters followed. Great. But isn’t this covered ground? Hasn’t this concept been beaten to death?

The short answer is yes. Stories about taking pills or treatments that seem too good to be true, with terrible second and third-order consequences aren’t new. And, my premise is the pill doesn’t really fast-forward life… the user just doesn’t experience or remember any of the parts they choose to skip. This is like Severance, where people’s work and private lives are completely separate. But should I care?

While pondering, I remembered a trend I noticed on Song Exploder. Song Exploder is a podcast where artists deconstruct a song they wrote, complete with origin stories and production. Many artists start with a song they liked (to be clear, someone else’s song). And they would riff on it and change the time, add/remove things… and, through a process of revision, create something new.

A sentiment I’ve seen shared many times also applies. “There are no original story ideas, only original ways to tell them.” Basically, the thought is even if a story/idea/situation has been used before… it shouldn’t stop the artist from pursuing the work. Each telling of a story is unique. Only you can tell your story, and since you haven’t told your story before, original and worthwhile.

I still have reservations. Not necessarily because it isn’t original… any story, told truthfully, is unique. But the bar has to be higher… what is it about this story or idea that is so interesting, so different as to make it worthwhile, especially in when so many other versions are out there?

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