Monday, November 19, 2012

Originality in Storytelling by Jeff Hargett, Finding Claire Fletcher Book Trailer, and the Twilight Saga

 
Please welcome Jeff Hargett!
 
I love movies.  I love books.  And I love writing.  What I don’t love is writing a book and later discovering that elements within it is not as unique as I had thought.
 
I enjoy few things in life more than a good fantasy, be it a book, television show or movie.  And while shopping just prior to vacation, I found one on DVD that caught my eye.  I showed the case to my wife.  “Honey, this Airbender movie looks like it might be interesting.  Want to give it a shot?”
We watched it.  And I was horrified.  The movie was full of benders--the very thing I call some of my book's magic-using characters!  Yikes!  Maybe it's just an obscure movie that no one has heard of.
 
What’s that, you say? Everyone except a tiny research team in Antarctica knows about this movie?  And it’s based on a popular animated series that even they know about?  And it has a huge fan base?
 
Rats, so much for being unique.  It's sure to draw parallels and comparisons now.  But I’ve been calling these magic-using characters of mine benders for over ten years!  Am I going to have to change what I call them now?   I must research this series to see when it first aired.  Maybe I can call dibs.
 
Then I hear it, Microsoft Outlook's “You’ve got mail” ding.  I open the email.  It’s from a beta reader of my story in England.  Feedback at last!
 
That's what bender means in the UK?  Well that’s not even mentioned in my story!  I'm writing epic fantasy, not epic erotica or paranormal romance.  (Yes, I'm a writer that doesn't get out and about enough; rectifying that is on my To-Do list.)  But this is still English!  If my harmlessly twisted term doesn't translate properly across the Atlantic then what can I expect if it gets translated into other languages?
 
Maybe I should just call them magi or wizards.  Right, those are unique terms that no one has ever heard of.
 
My speakers ring out another "You've got mail" ding.  More feedback on my book, this time from a hard-core lover of epic fantasy.  No mention of benders.  Good!  However…
 
Yes, I know Robert Jordan used the term Pattern in the Wheel of Time series.  My Pattern is different.  Mine is the source of magic, creation's threads that give form to everything physical.  I’ve even created new words based off it.  I’ve got Patternsight and Patternwit with their own (surely unique!) definitions and nuances.
 
Yes, yes, yes, I know Robin Hobb used a magic called the Wit in the Farseer Trilogy.  That's not what this wit is--at all.  Mine's Patternwit, not just wit.  Nothing alike, I promise!
 
Is nothing original?  What's a writer to do?  I know there are only a handful of unique plots out there.  I know that what make our stories unique are the twists we apply to them, their settings and characters, and the voice with which we tell them. 
 
But bender and Pattern and wit are terms, not plot.  Have I stolen?  Did I borrow without realizing?  Will my usage of these terms be accepted on their own merit, for what they are in my story?  Will people allow me to reuse them?  Redefine them?
 
Those are important questions.  My story was not fan fiction.  I aimed for originality.  My desire was to create, not regurgitate the creations of others.   My research revealed that Avatar: The Last Airbender didn't air until 2005.  My characters were bending back in 2000.  But the readers don't know that.  To them, my characters started bending in 2013. (Hopefully!)
 
I suppose an editor will have the final say as to whether my terms survive.  And if they do, the readers will have the final say as to whether they should have survived.  But I can, with a clear conscience, honestly state that I created.  And that's what storytelling is all about.
 
We need our stories.  We need to hear them, read them and tell them.  We need to ignite imaginations, enthrall and entertain each other.  Storytelling enriches the lives of both the hearer and teller.  The book of Ecclesiastes, written thousands of years ago, states: What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
 
Someone, somewhere has told a similar story.  But they’ve not told your story.  Your voice makes your story unique and original.  So I encourage you to tell your story as only you can tell it.  To adapt an exhortation used in theatre: The story must be told.
 
Thank you Jeff!
 
* * *
 
Finding Claire Fletcher Book Trailer Reveal!
 
 
Finding Claire Fletcher by Lisa Regan will be released by Sapphire Star Publishing on Thursday, December 6! I'm hosting the Finding Claire Fletcher Blog Tour on Wednesday, December 19!
 
* * *
 
 
Did anyone see The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part II last weekend? How was the film? I'm dying to see it!
 
* * *
 
 
It's Time to Give Back Blogfest
Make sure you check out the big reveal at Mark Koopmans' place today!
 
Have a great day!

43 comments:

  1. Hi Livia! And Jeff! Oh man, I know just what you mean with that sinking feeling of someone else profiting from what you thought was your original idea. Has happened to me more than once and it's like a kick in the gut. Coincidentally, Airbender was like that for me too. My first novel used what I called the Elemental Magic and that's exactly the same as Airbender. I've found since, that many stories play with the idea of using elemental power. And yes, I think subconsciously we're so influenced by pop culture without ever realizing it, that what comes to us as an original idea--comes to many others as well.

    Great post! And nope haven't seen BD yet but sure want to!

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    1. Hey there! Yes, "sinking feeling" is a good description of the emotions. I suppose it's a good thing in a way--someone else made a big hit using the terms, concepts, etc., so there must have been something "right" about it.

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  2. How frustrating!
    I know I borrowed elements for my books, whether I meant to or not. Like the computer tablets the characters use. Yes, just like an iPad, but I did write the first story long before iPads existed. Or did I get the idea from Star Trek...?

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    1. Yeah, a little frustrating. I can't help but wonder if Star Trek didn't get the idea of their pads from OSC's Ender's Game. Talk about an uncanny glimpse into the future!

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  3. You might end up having to ditch some of those terms, but it doesn't hurt to try and keep them.

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    1. I'll clutch them securely in my grasp for as long as possible. There are only so many applicable words that can be twisted. Of course, inventing new words is always an option too.

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  4. I think this is a really common problem for writers. Ideas and archetypes have a way of weaving together similarly, whether or not it is intended or realized. It's kind of cool in a way, because it shows how we really are all coming from the same source, but it's super frustrating when you are trying to be creative and original. It's still YOUR story and completely original, and that's all that matters in the end. LOL, and it's funny how certain words end up being nasty English slang. I learned this on my first novel with the word 'stuffed', who knew?

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    1. Yeah, I don't think it would have bothered be if the definition were something different. (Can't help but grin at your encounter too.) But yes, I suppose there is only one vast reservoir of creativity from which we all draw. We inevitably snatch hold of recycled ideas. We just have to find a way to make it our own.

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  5. First, kudos to Livia for inviting Jeff to guest blog. I'm already a groupie. ;)

    Jeff, augh-- how frustrating. Follow up with us if your editor chimes in with thoughts on your terms. Can this kind of stuff get into legal snafus?

    But other than those pesky little annoyances, your book sounds really intriguing!

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    1. Thanks and will do. I suppose pretty much anything can invite legal repercussions depending on who thinks they've been stolen from, whether there's any basis to it or not. Some infringement suits succeed where others fail. (Not all consider imitation an acceptable form of flattery.)

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  6. Livia, I tagged you in U Got The Look. See my blog for details.

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  7. Really fun post, Jeff!

    And I agree with the desire to create... not regurgitate the creation of others... and though there will always be elements that cross over, you're right that you've got to make the story your own. :D

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    1. Thanks, Morgan! Being unique individuals with unique perspectives and outlooks, making any story our own is usually possible. Sometimes we just have to stretch ourselves a bit.

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    2. Oh! And Livia, I forgot to say thanks for signing up for the Cheers, Cavanaugh Blogfest! I'm glad you're participating! ;-)

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  8. Great post. I've only become an avid reader in recent years. And, having been busy working and raising kids for the last 14 years (read: I have no life), I'm not up on popular books and movies. I have many of the same worries as you.

    It might not help the reception by our readers, but proof of a document saved prior to the similar book or movie in question might go along way to absolving us of plagiarism. ;)

    Livia, I haven't seen the final Twilight movie. I was so disappointed in the last one, I decided not to waste my money at the theater. I'll wait until it's on Netflix.

    I think the problem is having a different director for each one. What gives?

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    1. Good point about dated backups. People's jaws drop when they learn how much storage space I have, but I'm a hoarder of all things electronic and have more backups than dump truck stuck in reverse. ;-)

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  9. Thanks for mentioning our Roast to Alex, and thanks for hosting Jeff! He's been an awesome inkPageant contributor and his perspective on writing is a real refresher. :)

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    1. Aw, shucks, David. Now I gotta add humble pie to my Thanksgiving dinner list. And all can I say about inkPageant is IT ROCKS!

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  10. This situation is frustrating. About a year ago, I was almost finished with my 1st draft when I read a book that had several similar elements to what I was writing. It was so frustrating that I ended up having to rewrite the ending. But in the end, I'm glad I changed it because I like this version better, it forced me to stretch my imagination a bit more.

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    1. Finding such similarities is both good and bad, but it's really good when it forces us to make the extra effort to improve both ourselves and our output. Stretching our imagination can only be good, right?

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  11. Best of luck to Jeff and Lisa. I haven't seen the new Twilight movie and...gasp!! I still have NEVER read the books. (I surrendered my cool card years ago, so there is really nothing you can do to me.)

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    1. Thanks, Elizabeth! (shhh, don't tell anyone, but I haven't watched or read them either.)

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  12. Not many guys admit to being into Twilight. I'm dying to see the last movie too. Storytelling is essential and no matter what's alike in the stories it's the writing and events that makes them different. Oh and I'm a big Avatar: The Last Airbender fan. The cartoon series rocks. Too bad the movie sucked, bad. But I knew it wasn't going to be great from the cast choices to some of the changes they made.

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    1. I heard a lot of fans of the animated series really felt let down by the movie. I enjoyed it, but it was all brand new for me. Perhaps I got the better end of the bargain! (Now I need to get around to watching the series.)

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  13. I don't think you have anything to worry about, Jeff. A lot of genre fantasy sells because people are looking for things that are similar to so and so's best seller. Seriously. People read Brandon Sanderson and they finish and want something to give them that fix again. It sounds to me like you've got a real winner on your hands because you've got so many ideas that will make it a logical choice to read after the other books. That's a great place to be in for a new unknown voice.

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    1. I hope not, Michael. And you raise a good point about people wanting more of a good thing, even from different authors. I just hope my tales do the greats justice because the greats were my inspiration. :)

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  14. Jeff - wonderful wonderings. I encountered the same problem not too long ago working on a long piece for competition, but rather than similar words, it was ideas. I started the story in one direction, then, in my research saw it was similar to another story. So I moved it in another direction...same thing.

    It's a hero's journey in mythic fashion. But all my hero choices already had stories. A lot of notes, time, and research has already gone into this, so it's on the backburner for now...needing to be approached in a different way. It DID familiarize me with the masculine and feminine journeys, though.

    Good luck in whatever you decide. Oh, and about bender in England. It also means a drunken binge here in the states, but if it's clear you're talking about people with powers, then the guy in England was just being a little nit-picky. It's not like you're calling them F-ers.

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    1. LOL. It was mentioned more as a "just wanted you to be aware" kind of observation. We can twist pretty much anything, I suppose. I hope you find inspiration and direction so that your WIP doesn't stay on the back burner for too long. I usually find the hero journey tales quite enjoyable.

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  15. Yes, all the tropes have been done over and over, but our own take on life makes each turn original and special. At least, I'd like to think so! God, I hope so!!

    Yay for Lisa's trailer! I love that book so much. I've read it 4 times already!

    And I'm not embarrassed to say I will be going to see BD part II. Twilight at Thanksgiving has become a tradition. I hate to see it go.

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  16. Originality can be hard, there are after all only so many combinations of ideas. I guess it comes down to an individual voice with an original twist that can create a new magic. Great post.

    Wishing everyone who is celebrating a Happy Thanksgiving.

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    1. Thanks, Suzanne. The author's voice and perspective does much to make even a worn tale fresh. But yes, sometimes finding that unique, original twist can be challenging.

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  17. It is frustrating. Words from books and TV seep into our brain without even realizing it. And the concept of bending the elements totally makes sense which is why you had the idea! And so did someone else. Just like lots of stories have witches and wizards. ;0)

    I saw BD2 over the weekend and I really liked it.

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    1. That is so true, Jenny. Even subliminally perceived plots and settings creep up when we least expect it. I was discussing a plot element for book two with a critique partner. They asked, "Oh, like the Dunedain in LotR?" All I could do was cringe and groan. LOL

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  18. I loved this post! I feel your pain . . .because I have a novel in the back of my closet called, War, Inc. I started writing it before Monsters, Inc. came out. I finished it before the poorly done Cusack movie (don't watch it, it's the one time that Cusack has an epic fail), and it's nothing like those two . . .but I became disheartened and stuck it in the closet. I'm onto other things now, but still sometimes I think I need to dig that story out . . .for the reasons you stated so well in your post. "Someone, somewhere has told a similar story. But they’ve not told your story. Your voice makes your story unique and original." - Thank you for this wonderful quote! (I'm going to quote you in my next Creative Writers' class for teens - be prepared for googling).

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    1. Wow! I'm quotable? Cool! And if something I've said or written can be used to inspire or encourage teens then that's Super Cool! You should definitely dig out that old story. My guess is there's a spin or twist or element that makes yours stand apart. Just remember that only you can tell your story; no one else can do it justice.

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  19. I can relate to this post far too well! Back in 2003, I wrote a YA vampire book called Twilight's Edge. A couple years later, a YA vampire book called Twilight came out. That freaked me out, but all the advice I found online said it was okay for a pair of books to have similar titles, as long as the other wasn't super-popular, which was true at the time. Then Twilight became a phenomenon. Needless to say, my own book has undergone a title change!

    And that's only one of many, many instances where something about one of my projects ended up being freakishly similar to another's, to the point where it might look like I stole those elements when, really, I didn't.

    So...yeah. I feel your pain! Luckily, for things other than titles, execution is more important than the actual idea, so hopefully that's enough to differentiate our projects from others that have come before!

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    1. Yes, even with titles it's often difficult to be unique. I mean, how many coherent one to five word combinations are there? Many books these days have the same title. I suppose you could always substitute Dusk or something similar for Twilight. ;-)

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  20. I agree, the story must be told. And it's true that every writer will tell it in their own voice. As for me, when I hear Bender, I think of Futurama :-)

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    1. Futurama, eh? Yet another one I know nothing about. (I really do need to get out more.) Time to go Google. :)

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  21. Livia: Thanks so much for the shoutout!

    Jeff: I always say it's what you bring to the story that makes it unique and original. We're all using the same words! It is quite a quandary though. I wish you much luck!

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    1. Thanks, Lisa. I'll take all the wishes of luck I can get. Best of luck in your endeavors as well.

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