There is a lot of talent in the world. But talent in most activities, writing included, while necessary is not sufficient to make others take more than casual notice. A literary agent who blogs observed, “I think writers assume that good writing is enough. Well, it’s not. You have to couple good writing with an original storyline—something that will stand out as fresh and original. A story never told in this way before (even if elements are similar to what is already out on the market).”
Car chases, ambushes and other action or fx sequences are not a substitute for originality.
Self-discovery is not the basis for an original story. It may be original to your mind, but whether it is falling in love with a Thai girl or learning to ride a bicycle, you can be certain that many others have gone through the same range of emotions. But they have better things to do with their time than read how you managed to emerge strong, informed and wise from your ordeal.
Settings and context should also be original. A go-go dancer hugging a chrome pole on the dance floor is guaranteed to draw a big yawn. As will most of her back story of lost opportunity, poverty, rural bliss destroyed by the evil, big city.
The list of elements that should be original as well as story, plot and character could be expanded to the end of time. Let’s step back and ask is originality necessary and sufficient while talent is only necessary?
The problem with originality is that it takes a lot of hard work, thought, reflection and a reserve of experience and knowledge. Instead you get a world of literature that is promoted “Like a cross between Harry Potter and Homer Simpson.” Well, maybe that would be original. When a book is original it isn’t like another book.
What the literary agent doesn’t touch upon is that publishers are not necessarily drawn to what is original. They know the Da Vinci Code clone will sell (especially if they hit that market before anyone else piles in). Like the people who make movies (people who are originally adverse by nature), publishers have their ear to the ground listening for the thundering hooves of the herd as it moves from one part of the savannah to the next in search of filling their bellies. The herd is always on the move, looking for new feed to graze on. But they don’t necessary want original elephant grass. They want in their diet what they’ve always chewed on and can digest. Have you ever wondered why people who flog beer never make originality claims?
Originality squeezes in along the margins as publishers throw a bowl or two of new feed at the herd and see if they sniff around it, give it a taste, wolf it down, and screamed to the others, “Hey, new tasty grub. Yum Yum.” Or, more likely, (sound of a Chinese hocking up a large green gluey mass from the bottom of his lungs), “Shit, this is what I want? I can’t eat this.” Puke and vomit or, in other words, the original book is on the remainder table and as likely to get picked up as discounted radioactive mushrooms.
So where does that leave writers? Talent is necessary but not sufficient. Ditto for originality. The word “luck” enters as a flock of geese, exhausted from a long flight from Canada to the south, finding a lake to set down on. With geese, they know what they are doing. Luck doesn’t play any part of their circuit. For writers, it is like being the front goose in the formation and not having any idea where to head next. And when you look back, you find no one is following you. That may mean that you are original. Or it may mean that you are deranged or simply lost.