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Thursday, December 5, 2019

On Ideas and Originality

Right off the bat, this post might seem similar to my one on "Creativity," although the focus is quite different.

While in that post I was talking specifically on the degrees of creativity and what they might look like in practice, in this one I want to talk more about practical ways to actually implement creative thinking into daily writing.

Of course it goes without saying (yet here I am, doing the saying) that this type of stuff isn't just limited to writing books or writing in general, but could apply to painting, music, D&D campaigns, and any other relevant things you can think of.

Unfortunately, I haven't been doing blog posts as frequently as usual because I've noticed a steep decline in page views and comments, which seems to suggest that a lot of the people who came to the blog were just in it for the Alita posts or the first few tidbits of writing stuff and then got bored and left, but I think I'll keep writing stuff here anyway even if no one and their mother's don't read any of it. 'Cause why not ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So pressing on, I think there's two distinct ways creative and original ideas can be formed, but let's start with the easiest way.

Flipping: "Flipping" is a term I've coined that merely means, "taking other peoples' ideas or popular tropes and flipping them on their head." The difference between flipping and out-right stealing ideas is that it actually requires creativity and thought, and yields a different result.

One example is the animated series Hellsing Ultimate. Whereas most vampire shows and movies have devolved into teen dramas, Hellsing is a classic action-horror that makes vampires actually seem pretty cool, and it utilizes the anti-hero trope really well.

Another example is the ending for The Alchemist. (If you want to avoid spoilers for The Alchemist then feel free to skip, but honestly it's a hard read and not for everyone, and the ending is really the thing that makes this book funny so most of you can probably read this in good conscience).

We're all familiar with the "old wise wizard" trope. It seems that every fantasy story insists on having some wise-old-sage character like Merlin or Gandalf and it's kinda overdone at this point. And evil wizards are also pretty commonplace and usually unremarkably done.

But in The Alchemist, an old sage puts a curse on a man, saying that all the men in his bloodline will die young, and once it starts happening, the protagonist starts panicking and spends most of the story trying to figure out how to break the curse, only to discover that the curse isn't even real and the "wizard" was just breaking in and killing them himself. It's such a funny and ridiculous take on the whole "evil ancient wizard" trope that it pretty much deserves its own category.

Another example of flipping is The Incredibles. While I certainly don't hate Marvel and DC, I don't like them all that much because all those super hero movies feel kinda bland and uninspired to me. They all feel the same and lack that intrigue or originality that I usually enjoy in films. But The Incredibles is different in that it's a "realistic" take on what it would be like being a super hero, complete with the stupid general population turning against them, being forced to take soul-crushing and "ordinary" jobs to survive, and having to coexist with regular people while suppressing anything they might have that makes them unique or interesting. A lot like real life. And one could argue Shrek accomplished the same thing with basic fantasy tropes.
Me typing up a "why bariatric surgery is important" essay for health class

The idea of flipping is to take a common idea, make it seem like "just another ____" story, when in reality it's the exact opposite. There's a lot of fun to be had with idea flipping and there's tons of really popular and common tropes and cliches that haven't had their opposites explored.

But what's another way to create original content that doesn't involve just doing the "opposite" of something?

Distorting: What is distorting? Distorting is when, instead of taking one common trope or cliche and flipping it on its head, you take a bunch of small concepts and ideas from a variety of different stories then gradually make so many small changes that the overall product is completely different. At this point, you've implemented so many different little ideas from different books and movies and so many small changes were made that none of them are recognizable anymore, and everyone who reads your story will think you're a creative genius when really you stole every single plot point from a myriad of other works and just slightly altered each of them so that no one of them was similar enough for people to draw comparisons between your story and others.

The next one is completely original ideas. How does one come up with completely new and never-before-seen ideas in fiction? Is such a thing even possible? There's 129 billion books in circulation, how is it possible with that many books for someone to come up with a completely new and original concept?

New ideas: Obviously, this is the hardest one. And the funny thing is that this is the only one where you can't actively work on coming up with new ideas. While this one is sort of the hardest, in a way it's also the "easiest." These ideas aren't ones that you can come up with while sitting there and forcing yourself to churn up ideas during a brainstorm session.



These ideas just kinda show up when you least expect them.When you're in the shower singing Chelsea Dagger and pretending to know the lyrics after the "DOO DO DOOOO DO DOO DOOO" part, when you're watching reruns of "Friends" at 11:38 at night, when you're taking a shit and contemplating the meaning of it all, when you're insastiably bored and the bedroom is too damn hot for you to fall asleep so you just kinda stare at the ceiling angrily,


when you're standing somewhere and suddenly wonder what you should be doing with your hands and whether or not they should be in your pockets, that sort of stuff. Originality in its purest form can't be taught, but sometimes if you consume enough media and stories, they'll just start coming to you. I remember the entire idea of my story came from me just randomly thinking, "What if magic was limited and people had to fight for it?" followed by me thinking, "but what if one person is hoarding it all??" and that was pretty much how the idea of Desolation's Reach came into being.

These ideas will probably have humble origins but we don't have to actually talk about those. When your book is finished and people ask you where you got your ideas and inspiration from, you can always give them some spiel about your childhood stories or whatever and you don't have to tell anyone that the idea came to you while stalking people on Facebook while you were on the toilet. You can just conveniently leave that part out.

Anyway, let me know if any of these were helpful or not, it probably came across as just "steal peoples' ideas and slightly change them" and "spend as much time in the bathroom and doing mundane activities as possible" but that was a risk I was willing to take when typing this up and I knew what the deal was, so if it came across that way, oh well.

At any rate, I'll be back sometime likely within the next week or so for the next installment of the "Dynamic Story" series (if anyone actually cares about that) so stay tuned.


And as always,

may all your cups of tea be your cup of tea,

and I'll see you in the next post.

6 comments:

  1. My knee-jerk reaction while reading this is Chasing Echoes is an original idea. But thinking about it more, I'd say it's definitely 'distorting'. The time loop concept came from SciFi shows like Eureka (not Groundhog day, believe it or not, I never watched that movie until after drafting CE), the starting over at the same date/time came from Replay, the monumental kiss came from fairy tales...etc. It does contain something totally original though: The human embodiment of seasons. If that's been done before, I've never seen it.

    Regarding your drop in readership, blogging tends to be an 'I'll scratch your back you scratch mine' endeavor. The best way to attract readers is to find other active blogs out there that are also hurting for readers, and start commenting on their posts. It doesn't always work, but sometimes the author will reciprocate, and after a few times, you now have a regular reader. Years ago I was up to over 20 comments on my posts because I was active on the blogs of others, but now I don't care enough, so I have probably 3 to 4 regular readers.

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    1. Definitely true, I think the part I struggle with is the "active" part. I read a lot of other blogs every single one of them is by someone who either stopped blogging years ago or they're dead. I don't know how I got myself into this situation where all of my regular blog-reading comes from old archives (like "Why The Hell Would You Care" who hasn't blogged in years, Jonathan Ames who hasn't written since like 2004, and Lisa Lam who died in like 2012, etc.), but I have some serious networking to do. I used to read a lot from Writing About Writing but then he got all "if you have X political views I hate you" and I dropped him, so now I'm back at square one. Probably time to scour Goodreads and Blogger for new active blogs, huh?

      Anyway I agree that Chasing Echoes is definitely distorting. As for Desolation's Reach I'd say it's distortion also, but luckily I'm only stealing ideas from super obscure books that were written hundreds of years ago, so no one will ever tell when reading my story that it's not all that original. I also threw in a character that makes fun of Don Quixote while simultaneously doing the exact opposite, so I'd say that whole character arc is "flipping" because I'm taking Quixotism and flipping it on its head. Either way I think it will be a breath of fresh air for a lot of people reading it for the first time.

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  2. "...but luckily I'm only stealing ideas from super obscure books that were written hundreds of years ago, so no one will ever tell when reading my story that it's not all that original." I think that if you mix ENOUGH already-used ideas, it ultimately DOES create something original and new. World-class chefs do this all the time. They take ingredients that have been used millions of time in tired ways, and combine them in fresh, creative ways to create an entirely new dining experience. Writers can do the same, right?

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    1. Precisely. It's like what Sun Tzu said: “There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.

      There are not more than five primary colours, yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen.

      There are not more than five cardinal tastes, yet combinations of them yield more flavours than can ever be tasted.”

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  3. Damn it, Sun Tzu always says things so much better than me.

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    1. Ugh. It's a constant struggle, not a day goes by where I don't sit there wondering why I can't be Sun Tzu. The world has yet to give me a good reason.

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