Mark Terry

Monday, July 12, 2010

What is original?

July 12, 2010
I confess, I thought I should post something, but didn't really have a clue what to post. I thought about posting something related to finding out what you're weak at and working hard on it, but didn't really feel like writing about that. So the very second I got to the Title: I typed, thinking of a book I'm struggling to read now: What is original?

And here's the reason I ask. I'm reading a thriller by a bestselling author and I'm struggling with it for a number of reasons. But one reason I'm struggling with it is it's the type of thriller I think of as the rich-people-form-a-cabal-to-undermine-the-world-and-manipulate-politics-to-their-own-ends type of conspiracy thriller. I'm not a fan of the sub-sub-sub-genre, if indeed it is one, partially because I think most conspiracies fall apart when more than 2 people are involved (although I'll give credit to the people who disappeared Jimmy Hoffa, that's a fairly impressive accomplishment), and the very notion that a bunch of international businessmen could get past their own self-interests long enough to cooperate on some organization makes me laugh. Particularly since this conspiracy has been in existence for a couple thousand years.

(I once worked with a woman who was always spouting conspiracy theories, one of which was that the Masons were taking over the world governments and were already in charge of the highest levels of the Catholic church. To which one of my other co-workers commented, "This has got to be the slowest takeover in the history of humanity.")

But I guess, except for a couple of plot points, there's a lot of--for me--been-there-done-that. And yet, I'm fairly certain this book is selling hundreds of thousands of copies in hardcover, and maybe even more.

So what's original? How do you get to originality? Any thoughts?

5 Comments:

Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

I don't know. I don't think there's much that's truly original. I like to steal from other genres to bring something new to the genre that I'm writing, but that technique doesn't last long.

Of the things my one pub has said were original, it was really just a new mixture of old elements stolen from other genres, come at a bit sideways.

But I don't know. I always think my stuff is highly unoriginal. I can see where it's rooted.

9:43 PM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

Hi Mark:
Funny . . . I had that reaction to a Badaccii book, Saving Faith. The SAME reaction--these men are meeting in secret meeting rooms in D.C. and it's all these famous men and blah, blah, blah. They're planning on taking over the world. And I think, "One of these jerks tells his callgirl while drunk and the whole thing falls apart." I mean, yes, do I think MOST of govt. is shadow government and MOST of business is not transparent? Yeah. But not necessarily conspiracy and not of that magnitude.

That said . . . I think original can have the same sort of plot but for ME, the characters are fresh. Hence why I like Lawson. Ticking time bomb, conspiracy . . . you can have that all, but give me a character who seems unique and FULLY developed, and I'm on board for the ride (something not accomplished in the book I mentioned in this comment).

6:12 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

Funny you bring this up. I was just reading -- mostly out of morbid curiosity -- one of those conspiracy/thrillers with religious overtones. And I kept saying to Mary, hasn't this been done a thousand times? The secret brotherhood guarding the coded scroll on which the fate of the world rests. The hero being pursued by several different groups including the CIA. Does it really turn out to be a shock that the US vice president is the devil? Actually, I would have been much more surprised if a White House cleaning lady had turned out to be the devil.

So Mary and I were asking each other, what are writers supposed to do? Try to avoid being original? But how do you sell something that is unoriginal? There must be thousands upon thousands of manuscripts circulating about religious scrolls and the apocalypse and high government officials being the devil. And this one was ineptly written to boot. So apparantly decent writing isn't a factor. So what did the publisher do? Just choose one poorly written, unoriginal manuscript at random?

It is very discouraging and confusing.

9:02 AM  
Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

I just ran across this quote and thought of your post, Mark:

"The most original authors are not so because they advance what is new, but because they put what they have to say as if it had never been said before." (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

9:37 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Eric,
I do think there's a few too many religious conspiracy-type novels out there. Maybe it's because I'm not Catholic, or maybe it's because I think some of this rationality sort of misses the point of religious faith (in my opinion), but I've never quite gotten, say, Dan Brown's plot points where "we're going to prove that Jesus actually married a woman and had children and this fact will lead to the destruction of the Catholic Church." What? Since when has the Vatican or the Catholic Church let things like facts affect it? Since when do people care? You accept on faith, otherwise you'd wonder why a son of God would bother turning water into wine to keep the party going, etc., etc. A little historical analysis of the Catholic Church and the Bible would show how people like, ahem, Emperor Justinian, made calculated determinations on interpretations of scripture and which to leave in and which to leave out at least partly as a political propaganda machine for his empire. Facts and rationality have little to do with faith--you either believe or you don't, I guess.

So, anyway, I suppose Erica's right, it comes down to characterization and how, not necessarily original the characters are, but to what degree they come to life and don't seem like shadows of previous characters.

9:48 AM  

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