Questions of Originality

Guest Post by Soula Kosti ’18

This week in our ENG 311 Publishing class, we discussed a lot about the roles we have as writers and authors as well as the things we must do to connect with our audience and make our pieces unique. But how can we actually make what we write unique, if almost anything you can think of has probably been written somewhere already? We discussed originality and authenticity. Can we truly write something original if what we write about is inspired from different things we read or experienced in our lifetimes? As Mark Twain said:

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 10.43.43 AMBut if nothing is new and we must reuse the same ideas all the time, how can we know that we do not plagiarize? What if the words we use to explain something look a lot like the words someone else used? What is that which can make us differ from other authors and writers?

If we take as an example from fiction, we know that each genre has specific criteria that someone must meet so he or she can say that what they wrote belongs in that genre. If you want to write the paranormal, then you must have some paranormal creatures in your novel. But someone else may have used or created these creatures, so how can we be allowed to use them? Is plagiarism applied only to exact same sentences and not to ideas in general? Also, how is fanfiction not considered plagiarism?

I wish there was a way to answer all these questions, and if you kept reading, I would be able to provide them to you. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. This is a very thin line, and everyone has different opinions on the matter.

As C.S.Lewis said:

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

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