My blogger friend Sean Carlin wrote a post a few days ago about Artistic Originality. He’s a writer with a background in film, and he often laments the industry’s sequels and reboots that sacrifice the original film’s creative power for a guaranteed (but unsatisfying to the viewer) box-office bump.
His post got me thinking about the same phenomenon in books and what makes a story original. We may disagree on the number of plots available to us, ranging from 4 (man vs. man, man vs. society, man vs. nature, man vs. himself) to Polti’s 36 (here’s the list). But we can all agree that the number we have to work with is limited.
Since we’re essentially rehashing the same plots millions of time (sit with that thought for a minute) how is it that we aren’t bored to tears with writing and reading? Aren’t we all, in a way, regurgitating our favorites?
Carlin concludes his post with a reflection on his current writing endeavor Escape from Rikers Island, and to me, he defines what makes a piece of art original:
“For better or worse, it is a reflection of my personality, my interests, my sensibilities, my experiences. When I read it back, I …hear myself. It sounds like me.”
In lauding George Lucas’s original Star Wars trilogy, Carlin writes:
“… he diversified his influences, internalized them, developed an authentic voice all his own, and—this part is key—summoned the courage, without any assurances of a receptive audience, to make it heard. If all artists took inspiration from that and aspired to the same, our popular culture would yield a limitless bounty of originality.”
I find these conclusions both wonderful and daunting because they place originality in a realm where we, as artists, have full control—our individual collections of experiences, imaginings, and most important of all, our hearts.
My reflection on Carlin’s post led to the core of what makes a piece of art compelling and memorable to me, which is the artist’s internal investment, the deeper the better. In writing, it’s an author’s emotional soul that feeds a story and evokes a reaction. That personal vulnerability requires courage, but it’s worth it because readers perceive the authenticity of the human experience unfolding in the books they love.
The blogosphere is full of spectacular advice on the “craft” of writing, but not so much on the “art.” Because heArt is like a fingerprint—personal and one of a kind. It isn’t something taught, but a rich quality mined from a soulful place within us. You are sublimely unique, and therein lies your source of originality.
Carlin wrote in his comment to me:
“…tools, techniques, and even theory are cool, but they’re only there to help us create an authentic emotional experience, and we can’t do that unless we write honest stories, drawn from our own experiences, imparted with a piece of our souls … I think that goes to illustrate just how sensitive storytelling is—what a delicate balance between heart and craft we have to strike in order to get it right.”
I love that.
Happy Writing. ❤