Hello, my readers, to another blog post from yours truly. Experts believe that everything has “already been written” or that originality no longer exists in the writing world. To abbreviate this notion, we’ll call it the Tolkien Hypothesis for this article—yes, I made it up, but bare with me.
—Originality in Writing—
What is originality, and how does it come about? If you look at stories written today, you can find several Harry Potter doppelgangers, a LOTR inspired tale here, and maybe a Star Wars look-a-like there. Even romance novels are produced mechanically with an almost predictable formula.
—Enter the Tolkien Hypothesis—
How do we explain this phenomenon? Are writers taking the “easy way out” and piggyback riding on successful, legendary writers? Is it true that authors are struggling more and more to produce original, creative content? Where do we draw the line between a story that is inspired and one that is copied? Whew! That’s a lot of questions to answer, so, let’s take it nice and easy….
Creativity and Springboards
Many aspiring writers, like yours truly, become fascinated with certain authors (ahem…Tolkien, Brandon Sanderson, et al.) In our excitement to share in the celebration of creativity, many authors based part or—god forbid—all their story on these authors.
The intention may not be to copy, but we enjoy using these successful stories as springboards for our imagination. Sometimes, we may jump a little too high and hit the ceiling, so to speak. I certainly did when I finished my alpha manuscript of Ethereal Seals book 1 (which is now called Blade of Dragons).
After reviewing my rough manuscript, I realized—much to my horror—that I had basically written a sloppy LOTR with Star Wars themes inserted haphazardly. I had committed a Tolkien Hypothesis crime! After several revisions and harsh critique from readers my manuscript is now on its own path. It still has similarities to LOTR and Star Wars in it, but Ethereal Seals has a unique feel, something that makes it stand out.
Does this mean I regret creating my alpha manuscript? Certainly not. I actually cherish my old writings, because they were the springboards that I needed to get my own creativity juices flowing.
Writer or Robot?
Some writers may intentionally copy story structures because they are employed by certain companies. There becomes a robotic need to churn out XYZ number of novels a year for a profit. In this sense, originality is purposely ignored for financial gain.
The other day, I was at the supermarket and I scanned a dozen romance novels on the self. They all had classy catchphrases like “The Italian Prince’s One-night Stand” or “The Duke’s Scandalous Heir”. It was almost as if I was looking at the same book reprinted with slightly different wording.
Even in the fantasy section, books with “Dragon-this” or “Dragon-that” seemed a little less than original. This is actually the reason why I changed my book title from Dragonsblade to Blade of Dragons. To me, it reads more original and still has a strong punch.
Anyway, I prefer to read books that have life in them—novels with heart and soul, not replicas retelling the same story with a few different plot devices. Not to say all mass market books at like that, but most that I’ve read are.
—The Road to Victory—
What is Success?
How do we, as writers, define success? An aspiring writer can finish a 2,000-word short story and consider it an achievement. Other authors don’t feel satisfied until they have an entire epic trilogy published—and then some. For me, success is subjective, and the milestones we set are our own. But it’s also important to pace ourselves and be patient with who and what we are.
The Whimsical Muse of Creativity
After years of pushing myself too hard, I’ve realized that my imagination is whimsical and volatile. Sometimes I enter a “writer’s zone” and can easily churn out a few thousand words within an hour or two; other times I struggle to get down a little as 300. It’s important, in my opinion, that we discover and nurture the personality of our inner muse. Once we do this, success is only a matter of time.
From my experience, originality doesn’t come from copying off successful writers; nor does it involve a phobia of inspiration. We, as original authors, must forge our own universes through the springboards we acquire from others, while keeping the Tolkien Hypothesis in mind.
Much of the world is only focused on profits or time-constraints and may have lost sight of the human imagination. This doesn’t mean we, as writers, cannot express our inner muse to society. The more fun you have with it, the better—and we set our own milestones and victories. We don’t have to buy into the mechanical urges of corporations, nor should we forgo imagination for worldly success and money.
Originality and creativity go hand-in-hand, and neither can be rushed, lest we fulfill the Tolkien Hypothesis. Writing is as much of a growing process for the story as it is for the writer :). And with that, I’ll leave you a quote…
Only in men’s imagination does every truth find an effective and undeniable existence. Imagination, not invention, is the supreme master of art as of life.
– Joseph Conrad
Thanks a bunch for reading! If you enjoy the content here please click that “follow” button below. I’m also interested in a final beta reader for my science fantasy manuscript—if you’re interested, contact me. Cheers. 😀