Have you ever read or heard about agents who are looking for something “original” or “unique” and then remember that other phrase: “There’s nothing new under the sun.”
So how in the world are we supposed to write something “original” or “unique?”
It’s true in the beginning of most of our writing careers we’re more or less regurgitating all the stories we’ve seen or read over the course of our lives. And if we’re really being honest, often it’s a very poor copy of mediocre ideas in the first place.
But then we gain experience. We keep reading and writing and we dare to get feedback from our peers and we grow as writers. And hopefully we come to the same realization that C.S. Lewis presents us with today:
Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.
What does he mean about telling the truth? Are you out to help people discover something they’ve never once considered before? Well, maybe. But if you recall his bit about not caring twopence how often it has been told before, then we’ve learned that our “truth” won’t be original, just that we have within us an original way of saying it.
Telling the truth in literature is casting aside cliché and other writing shortcuts and in some aspects, exposing ourselves in our quest for the truth. Whether you’ve got a sci-fi, a fantasy, a historical romance—whatever your category—there is some truth you mean to tell in that story and if you do your very best to be honest about it you’ll find the originality you’ve been seeking.
Often we don’t even know what that truth is until we write the story. And it’s probably better that we don’t know exactly what we’re after until it’s come out of us. The rough drafts are when we discover, the revisions are when we polish it well so others may discover.
Make the truth your goal and tell the best, most honest story you can. Then you’ll be original.
What do you think of this quote? Have you ever read stories where you felt like they were trying too hard to be original? Have you found this quote to be true in your own writing? What do you see ‘telling the truth’ as meaning?