It’s an age-old problem: How can I be original in a sea of content? How can I possibly create a new, fresh idea when all the good ideas seem to be taken? Or, worse yet: What can I do to prevent my original idea from appearing in some other story before I’m finished writing it?
These are fairly valid fears among writers both new and old. Particularly since, in reality, there isn’t anything new under the sun and any idea you come up with will have existed in some form before and will be repeated and copied until the death of human culture. Sorry.
But that’s the good news. As a writer, you don’t really have to worry about how original your plot is or isn’t. Because what will stand out the most in your work is the personal experience you bring to it.
Now I’m not pitching “Write What You Know” because, while that can be a useful tool to employ, we as writers must step out of our comfort zones, out of our personal knowledge realms to expand our understanding of the world and ultimately, our writing.
What I mean by personal experience is, the way in which you personally view the world. The way in which your mind works will ultimately play a big role in how unique your stories can be. The truth is, your experience as a human in uniquely different from the way in which all other humans experience the world. The trick as a writer, or as any sort of writer, is to effectively communicate the world experienced within your mind in such a way that an outside person can comprehend the slightest fraction of this experience.
Because I believe, at the end of the day, that the plot to any given story is simply an anchor. It’s a thing upon which the meat of the writing must hang upon if it is to have any shape at all.
And I’m not saying that Plot isn’t important, quite the contrary, it is essential. What am I saying though, is that one shouldn’t be so wrapped up in the idea that a plot needs to be completely unique. I’ve seen many a story ruined by over-complicated plots, full of twists and compounding details upon which the story relies so completely, that when you get to end of it and all is said and done… you realize there really wasn’t much meat to the story at all.
To me, a piece of writing that is nothing more than a vehicle to express an “interesting” or “surprising” plot full of flat characters and uninspired scenes or prose is a one-off experience. And maybe that’s good enough, for some. But, for my purposes, a truly great tale is one that can be read over and over again without the experience being diluted by having prior knowledge of ending. That is, the ride is so entertaining that it doesn’t matter if you know every bend in the road by heart.
Don’t get me wrong, dear reader. I have nothing against creating a unique and thought-provoking mystery within the plot of your story. I have no problem with writers wanting to create a brand-new never before seen universe from the ground up. What I am submitting is that, while these elements of a story contribute to a great piece of literature, these superficial elements (the what, the where, the who) are not what will ultimately set your story apart.
What matters is how you tell your story. What matters is the language you use, the way in which you allow your scenes to unfold, the way your characters are presented to the reader and the manner in which they act and interact with one another. The scenes and moments that make your story most memorable will be painted with the richness of your own experiences, a viewpoint that no other author can replicate. These are the components that will make your story your story. And no one else’s.
So fret not if your vampire love triangle epic or your dystopian heroine’s quest feels like well-traveled ground. Like the broth used for a good stew, the plot is only the base. Even if your work resembles another at first taste, it is up to you to add enough hearty ingredients and spice blends to create a distinct flavor.
So how do you write an original plot? You don’t. But as far as everything that surrounds the plot? The avenues for creativity and originality are endless.
Sorry for the food metaphors.