Stop Trying to be Unique

Originally Published: June 13, 2015

Everyone wants to be special. We believe that, if we’re special, then no one can replace us. If we become irreplaceable, then we’re guaranteed love and acceptance — or at least sympathy and attention.

If uniqueness is something people desire, then it’s demanded of storytellers. Your story must do something new. It must take a turn into unexplored territory. The more original your story is, the more successful it will be.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I’m quite familiar with these feelings. Relentless ostracization and bullying can bend a person toward philosophy as young as elementary school. Now that I’m an adult, I wonder how healthy this pursuit of uniqueness is. Because let’s be honest here — it’s hard to be original and creative. This pressure to stand out and be different can be crippling for any writer — for any kind of artist — but especially for those just starting out.

I’ve noticed that I’m more motivated and the words flow easier when I stop worrying about how my work stacks up to others’. Instead of refusing inspiration born from my new favorite piece of media out of fear of ripping it off, I entertain the idea and make note of it. If the idea lingers and grows, I can direct it further away from the original piece by explicitly making different creative decisions. What if magic worked differently in this universe? What if the world was at a higher or lower stage of technological advancement? What if this major character had a different personality? What if that one big lie had actually been true?

To sum up my point in a single sentence, don’t be afraid to steal what you’ve seen work before and use it as the foundation of your story.

Now I’m not saying you should put Gandalf, Captain Kirk, and Inigo Montoya in the OK Corral at high noon opposite Professor Moriarty, Captain Hook, and Darth Vader. (Unless you’re writing fan fiction. Then have at it.) What you can do, though, is use the same archetypes: the wise old wizard, the reckless but good-hearted space captain, the skilled swordsman out for revenge. Settings and situations also have archetypes. In our scenario, it’s the battlefield.

The focus now is how your space captain or your wizard is different. What makes him (or her) an individual? Another focus could be how the battlefield is different — a unique place in the geography of your world. What is special about it? Why did both sides choose to meet here? Is it neutral territory?

Don’t reinvent the story if you don’t have to. Focus on putting your spin on it. Regardless of how special you may feel, you are an individual with your own combination of foibles, opinions, and experiences. Everything you make will have the mark of you, which no one else in the entire world can replicate.

Have you ever felt pressured to create something utterly different and one-of-a-kind? What did you do to bring yourself back to productive flow? For the experienced among us, what is some advice you wish you had been given when you were starting out? Share your thoughts and place your bets on the fan fic showdown in the comments below.

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