Friday, July 10, 2015

Original

I subscribe to Herman Melville’s notion that it’s “better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation”.  I accept that we are all products of our experiences and are thus influenced by those who’ve come before us, but I pride myself on being an original.  (With one notable exception: I would secretly love to meet my doppelganger.  So if you are an attractive middle-aged balding man with caramel skin, an orthodontally corrected smile and a cushiony figure, look me up.  Let’s do lunch, or possibly Parent Trap someone.)

With my stories originality is doubly important to me, which is problematic when readers generally look for comparable works to group your book with.  When I gave a brief and basic synopsis of my first novel to a friend he said, “So it’s like the Tennis Shoe books?”  I wanted to die.  That is not to say that I don’t like the Tennis Shoe books, on the contrary, but my story has next to nothing in common with Mr. Heimerdinger’s stories and I set out to create something that I believe is unique. 

I would never wish to rehash something someone else had done.  I even shy away from repeating things that I myself have created.  To retread, reinvent or reimagine a thing is fine and can be entertaining and in some ways new and fresh, but it’s not something I want to do (I even removed ‘I myself’ from that sentence because I used it in the previous sentence #truestory).

Here in lies my problem.  I am currently working on my second novel, and have been since late last year.  It deals with our inner thoughts and a heavenly bureau charged with cataloging them.  Just after I had the idea for this story I heard that Pixar would release a film in 2015 called Inside Out that dealt with our inner emotions and I thought, “Uh oh.”  Still it sounded different enough, so I put that worry to the back of my mind and began to work on my story. 

Today I had the pleasure to go to the movies with my wife and watch Inside Out.  First, let me say that I love love love loved this film.  I would recommend it to anyone.  Matter of fact, if you have not seen it you should go immediately (after you finish reading this of course).  Having said that though, my heart sank from the opening frames as it was markedly similar to the imagery I used in my story to frame an integral part of the plot.  After that, thankfully, I am happy to report that Mr. Docter and Mr. Del Carmen went in a wonderfully different direction and there were very few parallels between their story and mine.  However, I can already hear the comments when I describe my next book, “So it’s like Inside Out”. 

My own personal Sadness took control for a few minutes, and a bit of Anger, as a contemplated how I could light the digital copy of my work on fire.  I really considered shelving the whole thing because of two minutes of a movie.  Upon further reflection I decided that this is a story worth telling regardless of comparisons.

After some serious soul searching I have reached the conclusion that a comparison doesn’t diminish your work but in many ways can help your readers.  While I still place a high value on originality, and that is the bar I will continually try to surpass, if someone finds similarities elsewhere from their experiences or influences I will no longer look for the closest, biggest rock to crawl under (unless it’s 50 Shades of Anything, then you will find me with a cinderblock necktie looking for the nearest neighborhood pool).

Disclaimer: I fully recognize the irony of starting a blog on originality with a quote from someone else and ending it with a 2 Big Bald Guys joke I borrowed from Jason Day.  #hypocrisy

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