Dragon hatching on a Plaque
By Robin Hutton
We tend to imagine what's been imagined before. We dream of faeries and elves and our nightmares consist of zombies and vampires. We even write fanfiction. All because this is what we know and are familiar with.
A few years back I was part of a writers' workshop (a group of writers that get together regularly to critique each other's work). One time, one of the members submitted to the group a short story about a song coming to life. This was not an easy concept for most of the workshop members to grasp, especially since they already had another idea from mainstream imagination, one of a shaman calling a spirit with song and dance, an idea they felt comfortable with.
When the author explained his story more clearly, they looked confused. "But how can a song come to life?" they asked. "How can someone summon a spirit?" I retorted in a needlessly snappish way. It just didn't make any sense. The same people, who accepted "the spirit realm" so readily, had problems accepting a song coming to life. The same people who read and wrote about magical forests, mages and faster-than-light space travel had a hard time with a living song.
By Robin Hutton
I realized then how our imagination is set with fictional staples such as spirits, elves, vampires, dragons, wizards etc. making it easier for readers to receive and even expect these things, and making it easier for authors to write about them. The ready-made concepts are easy to explain or describe, sometimes, none is even necessary, doesn't everybody know what a dragon or an elf is? But these imagination staples are making it very hard for us to accept original ideas/imagination to the point that it's almost frowned upon.
A while back Lee Carlon wrote a post about how hard it is to be original, come up with something completely different that hasn't been done before. I agree. Fully. And it's frustrating. Heck, even when we think we're original, most times it turns out we aren't. However, as writers, we carry the banner of imagination. It is our responsibility to come up with original ideas, or at least to try.
I don't think I have come up with one original idea yet (I don’t even know if my friend's 'living song' was done before somewhere, you're welcome to enlighten me), but I always try. I rack my wee brain for hours searching within and I have nothing but admiration for those who can work their imagination differently and show us new things. I take my hat off to them. They are the Einsteins of literature.
Note: Before anyone jumps down my throat, originality can come in a variety of forms, not just new "monsters." Originality can be in the style, writing, plot, etc. It might be that I make a differentiation between imagination originality and writing originality. But the post is getting too long.
Categories: writing, fiction