Everything Has Been Thought Of Before

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“… but the problem is to think of it again.” – Goethe

I have been asked to take a quick look at a serious barrier to entry: coming up with an original idea. You have the desire to write, character concepts and even a plot, but they aren’t shop-fresh and sparkling new. As the requester said themselves, ‘it’s a bit like music – there’s only 12 semitones in the western music system so every tune has probably already been written’.

This is broadly true, but I think it misses a fundamental point. People don’t particularly care about a completely original story. What matters is good writing and good characters. The stage is the same – only the set dressing changes. But the set dressing is important. I once asked a conference delegate whether the content or the delivery of presentations was more important. He said style wins over substance nearly every time.

The only difference here is the species.

Speaking for myself, I almost always start off with a fairly basic idea that has been done before many times. Once you are well into the writing process, however, your characters start taking on a life of their own and the story changes. The basic skeleton is still a warmed up version of (in my case) Sleeping Beauty, but the flesh over the top has made it nearly unrecognisable. In some ways, I think readers quite like the reassurance of a skeleton they are familiar with. It means they can concentrate on the details of the difference.

The absolutely crucial point is this – write. Write anything, write anyway. If it’s not original, it doesn’t matter. Write it for long enough and it will become original, even if the only thing different is your voice. This is a skill and it takes practice. Eventually the identikit characters and ripped-off plotlines will evolve into something beautiful.

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