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?

Monday’s Writerly Quote

It’s still May and I’m still sticking with all Star Wars, all the time in posts. There are plenty of writerly quotes out there, and more to come, but let’s try something a little different today. Let’s go way back to 1980. Remember this scene from The Empire Strikes Back?

Luke: There’s something not right here… I feel cold. Death.
Yoda: [points to a cave opening beneath a large tree] That place… is strong with the dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is. In you must go.
Luke: What’s in there?
Yoda: Only what you take with you.

For those of you starting out this writing journey, you’ll come to a point where you’ve grown enough in your writing that difficult truth will come out on the pages. Those of you who are already there already know what I’m talking about. All the cliché and regurgitation of old story will start to look fake and uncomfortable and then the important truths come out. In the beginning it may be that only a few of these truths will make it onto the pages. Even as you approach this stage, it doesn’t mean you’ve become a perfect author anymore than it meant Luke had become a real jedi.

It’s a part of the journey you can only take yourself. People can guide and advise you on how to get there and give you an idea of what you’re facing, but like Yoda says, in the end whatever you face in there is what you’ve brought with you.

They say all of us our telling truths in our stories we aren’t hearing anyone else telling. That’s why we’re driven to tell them. But we don’t always understand what those truths are in the beginning. The more you write, the more you’ll discover about yourself and your secrets. And guess what? In some ways you’re putting all of that out there for the world to see and it can be frightening. But if you hold back, it will show and it may lessen the effect of the story you’re writing.

I feel like I’m on the cusp of this—by no means do I fully understand it—but I think I’m beginning to grasp it. If we really want to tell a good story, if we really want to affect readers in a profound way, we have to tell the truth and we have to mean it. That doesn’t mean being grotesque or sensational or extreme for the sake of all of those things. It doesn’t mean edgy or controversial. It just means being honest for the sake of being honest.

It may not come to recognizable fruition right away. It may not even come out at all in the first novel. But if we want to be great writers, we have to be willing to go into the cave and face it and let the world see. That’s the only way we affect real change as storymakers. So the advice I take from that quote is: Tell the truth.

Then let people make of it what they will.

What do you think? Do you strive for personal truth in your storytelling? Are you already digging deep for those truths inside? Have you had any success? Is there anything you would tell those still figuring out their truths? Have you learned anything because of it?