A way with worlds: 21 - Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed
by Steven Savage of Seventh Sanctum
Page 1 of 1
Yes, we've all heard it in
our most depressed moments - "I can't seem to do anything
original." Those moments where it seems everything has been
Or perhaps, we get a really
neat idea to use something we've seen before. It's not exactly
stealing, is it? However part of you feels bad for using it.
Maybe you aren't looking for originality at this time, but still
Well, these two crises of
conscience (or a bad day at the keyboard) actually relate to each
other - namely, when is does something fit into your world?
Whether you find someone else did the same thing or want to adapt
something into your writing, it's the same question: is it really
part of my world?
THE QUEST FOR
Let's be frank here - originality is a fuzzy concept,
you can't grasp it totally, and you never will. Stop beating
yourself up, you're wasting time.
Is something original if you
thought of it with no other inspiration? Is it original if
someone else thought of it separately? Does having a source of
inspiration make an idea unoriginal? Can you do anything without
inspiration, in other words, another source?
This, to put it tactfully,
is a bunch of pointless arguing. Nothing in life is unconnected.
That inspiration came from somewhere, and its results will go
somewhere else. A car is not something that sprang totally into a
creator's mind, it was built on all sorts of previous
developments, and a fic is the same. You don't see people
decrying the unoriginality of a steering wheel.
When evaluating a concept in
a story the question to ask is "do your ideas (no matter how
"original" they are) work in your setting?" That's
it. You can debate the fine points forever, and you're not going
to get anywhere and you certainly won't get any writing done. The
coherence of your work comes first - and even if an idea has been
done to death, your take in a good setting will be new.
In short, stop worrying and
I'm reminded of an episode
of the show Remember WENN called "Between a Rock and a Soft
Place," where the crew of a small radio station did a show
called "Same Dane, Private eye." It was a great show
about a detective who's father was murdered - only it actually
happened to be Hamlet retold. Original or not? A take or a
Who cares, it was fun to
The flipside of the "originality panic" is
when you have an idea you just want to use - and then aren't sure
how to work it into your continuity.
The approach to this is
simple - if the idea integrates into your setting and makes
sense, go ahead. If it doesn't, then drop it.
Do not, under any
circumstances, just slap something into your continuity because
"it's cool," or because it'll impress someone or any
other reason but that you can make it work. If it won't work,
drop it. You'll save yourself trouble and a loss of dignity.
Just like the worry about
inspiration, the concern here is does the idea work in your
setting, pure and simple. Don't avoid having fun by working in
that reference, that neat martial arts move, or whatever you want
to work in. Just don't bend your continuity around your new
This can be a bit less of a
concern if you're writing in another person's continuity and
you're integrating an idea from that continuity or exploring it.
This is a serious concern if you're writing in someone else's
continuity and the idea is alien to it - be very careful, since
you're working with someone else's ideas and may not have the
grasp you think you do.
"Does it work in continuity" is the first question to
ask about any idea, "original," "inspired,"
or "borrowed." Don't get bogged down in either
self-doubt or obsessing over having to use an idea - make sure
the continuity works.
Our reseources this week are two nice reference pages:
http://laura.chinet.com/html/titles01.html - My friend Mike Surbrook dug
link up. It's a guide to titles and references of British
royalty, and a great resource if you're writing a fantasy or
http://www.dean.usma.edu/history/dhistorymaps/Atlas%20Page.htm - Found by
my wife, Michele Savage.
A great resource of maps covering some two hundred years of wars.
Fantastic historical and visual reference.
A Way with Worlds is also hosted at
Take a trip to my own alternate world, the Crossworld of Xai, at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/xai/
Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Steven Savage, sffworld.com. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.