I struggle with this concept so much, but never more than when I’m prepping to query. Whether I’m stalking agents on Twitter, perusing agency websites, utilizing the fantastic and wonderful Manuscript Wish List or just trying to craft my query in general, it never fails that this topic is brought up and I’m stuck with these hidden emotions that I wish I could describe, but I’ve always been so scared to say, because I don’t want to be disrespectful or appear ignorant. I am genuinely curious. My question regarding originality keeps nagging at me and the itch to talk about this is still here, so the secrets out, friends:
It irks me a little bit when someone asks for something “new” or “original,” not because I think we shouldn’t want these things, but because I don’t have any idea how the hell to achieve said things.
Because what is more original than sending out something I’ve written; a person you’ve never read before, with characters you don’t know, even if aspects of the plot or tropes are familiar?
Granted, I’m sure if some professionals in the publishing business read this, they’d be rolling their eyes at me. I don’t mean to sound inconsiderate or disrespectful or rude or anything aside from actual curiosity. I totally understand why agents have to be picky (while starting off securing an agent may be a dream come true for writers, it is a job for agents and they obviously have to be cognizant of that when choosing authors to represent, amongst a variety of other factors) and that they each have their own personal tastes. One agent is completely tired of vampires while another isn’t interested in angels. Another wants both.
I totally understand that and respect it 110%. So please don’t get the wrong idea. I just don’t understand what they are asking for when they ask for something original. Because what it is original? Is that even possible?
I know my stories aren’t breaking any new ground. I do things that have been done before. I also am fond of twisting a lot of traditional tropes, building up expectations only to disappoint and surprise my readers later on when the story takes a different turn. And as I grow as a writer, my stories have also grown in complexity and in creativity. My first trilogy is so filled with tropes (though that did inspire my latest project, which I’m arguably most excited about) and is the only one that I’ve queried so far, so I totally understand why it has only been rejected (especially when you factor in that I queried it before it was truly ready and my query could have been improved tenfold). And though I have moved on and written other works, some which still have tropes, some that don’t, I still work on this story and I still hope it can get published one day and be enjoyed by readers, even if it isn’t original.
Yet isn’t it?
I guess it’s not agents requesting that they want to see something original that irks me slightly, it’s that my work, because it’s been “done before,” it isn’t considered original. Yet how original can you be? Can you do anything completely and totally new? There are always going to be elements that you draw from, inspiration, works that mirror yours, tropes that you incorporate and twist.
And I guess, writing this, I realize that my goal for my books isn’t for them to be the most original books you’ve ever read. If that ends up being a side-effect, fantastic! I just want to write the most enjoyable and fascinating stories that I love, in hopes that others might love them, too. If they are never labeled as original or unique, but you enjoyed them nonetheless, then I think I could be okay with that.
What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear other opinions about this, especially from any agents who impossibly stumble upon this post: what is your definition of originality? Can it still be achieved in writing? Has everything been done before? Does writing your own work hold any originality organically simply because you wrote it?