Monday’s Writerly Quote

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?

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9 thoughts on “Monday’s Writerly Quote

  1. I’ve read a lot of stories where the author tries too hard. Thankfully, I only remembering seeing these from my fellow college classmates. The stories were disjointed a lot of the times.
    I’ve learned to stop going for originality. Some things simply work for my genre and I’d rather tell a fun, entertaining story than kill myself trying to reinvent the wheel. Original aspects will appear as the story progresses.

  2. That’s a great quote! When authors try too hard to write “the truth,” it invariably comes out sounding fake. We’re better off writing what comes naturally to us from our own experiences and imaginations. We’re individuals, and we should let our own unique perspectives come through in our writing. It’s easier said than done, though.

    • I agree. Easy is writing cliché, regurgitated garbage. Hard is writing brilliant, “original” material. That’s why I think it’s worthwhile to take our time with our writing and let it develop more toward brilliance and less toward cliché. Thanks for your comment. I especially liked how you put it with “our own experiences and imaginations.” 🙂

  3. I think the only times that I felt like an author was trying too hard ti be original was when they lost track of the important parts of the story, like the characters. I have never felt like an author was trying too hard if I likes the characters enough.

    • I think you’ve touched on an important point in keeping the story believable, which is focusing on keeping the characters fleshed out. I’m in agreement, there are some books and media that I’ve thought the plot was garbage, but the uniqueness of the characters kept me watching/reading. Although I would prefer both plot and characters were strong. Which is more your strength? Plot or characters?

  4. Tropes exist because they work – they are a quick language within a genre. Often people try to work around tropes and cliches, and in doing the opposite become predictable and unoriginal. However, if characters and plot stem from an organic place of ‘what would real people do,’ something original and interesting can spawn.

      • It depends on the story. I think I usually start with a concept, which grows into an elaborate plot. However, I also sometimes have a vision of a particular character, and then build a plot around it. If it is character-based, then I start playing with setting – sci-fi or Fantasy, and try to push myself into a territory I haven’t written before.

        • I should do that more, especially given my recent interest in flash fiction writing. I guess I sort of am. But I wonder if new territory should include genres we wouldn’t normally tread into? Hmmm… I’ll have to think on that one. Thanks!

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