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  • Writer's picturePaige N. Staudt

Originality in Writing

Photo by Anirudh on Unsplash

Standing out from the crowd can be hard. It's even harder when you're trying to stand out in an oversaturated field where everyone else is trying to do the same thing.

So what makes your writing unique enough to stand out?

When it comes to creating an original story, people tend to misunderstand and think that you have to have some kind of high concept idea that no one has ever thought of before. Trying to think of something that will amaze and dazzle readers because it's never been done before is a lot of pressure to put on yourself--and even if you do come up with some miracle solution, an agent might have the same idea in eight different manuscripts on their desk right now.

So what does it mean to have an "original" story?

Originality stems from how you tell a story. Every story has already been told, but rarely will it be told the exact same way by two different people. One of the best pieces of writing advice I've ever gotten was that there will always be an audience for your work. It might be a very small, niche audience that you need to seek out, but they exist. So why not write what you love?

This is where the "mash-up" method comes in. I'm not the first to use it and it probably has a nicer name than that, but that's what I've come to call it. The mash-up method is when you take two vague concepts that intrigue you--typically two things that have nothing to do with each other--and combine them to create a unique element to your story.

After you have these two elements, it's your job as the writer to figure out how they work into a story.

Let's use one of my pieces for an example. In my short script "Harvey and Gretta", I combined the Brothers' Grimm story of Hansel and Gretel with the 1930s Dust Bowl. Initially these two have nothing to do with each other, so I had to think to myself; how can I make Hansel and Gretel work in the Dust Bowl?

I brainstormed and made a list of all the possible ways it could work. Instead of a candy house, the kids come across a luscious garden with fresh fruits and vegetables in the middle of the prairie. It was the Great Depression and took place in the Dust Bowl, so a garden like this would absolutely lure them in. Instead of a witch, a single woman lives in the house and offers the children food, including fresh meat. Gretta becomes suspicious when she notices that there are no animals to get the meat from, and that the house is strangely decorated to suit a family that this mysterious woman seems to be lacking. As the story goes on, the children discover a gruesome secret in the basement, and must kill their host in order to escape.

As you can see, the story of Hansel and Gretel is still there, but now it has the added twist of taking place in the 1930s Dust Bowl. That twist, the way the story of Hansel and Gretel is told through a fresher adaptation, is what makes it original.

Let's use another example.

I love faeries--I love reading about them, researching them, and of course, writing them. When I decided to write my short story "Dandelions", I knew I wanted to make it about faeries, but what else? I decided to pair the concept of faeries with the idea of childhood exploration; as a little kid, I often went exploring with my childhood friend in the woods and along the creek beside their house, and we would make up stories about strange things we'd seen in the forest during our treks based on what we found. From there, I took inspiration to create a short story about a little girl coming across the corpse of a pixie in her backyard.

If there is a concept you like--an idea, a setting, a character--consider pairing it with something unordinary or unique: carnivals and scientists, 1700s and dragons, bagpipes and flying. Whatever it is you like, play around with it and have fun!

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