Recently a short story of mine was rejected from an anthology for having “too cliché” of a hero. The story centers around a monster hunter who blows into town wearing a black trenchcoat and fedora. Sure, not too terribly “original”. It’s a classic image:
Which is precisely why I wanted to write it.
I don’t fault the anthology for turning me down. We had a great talk about it and parted in perfect agreement that this wasn’t meant to be. But, as I look at more and more anthology submissions, I see a lot of “We want something that no one has ever, ever seen before” or “We want so out-of-the-box, that the out-of-the-box people are blown away!” I’m not going to sit and quote the whole “Nothing new under the sun” argument, because that’s been done (irony? :p). I understand uniqueness. I understand the aim to write something original and not just derivative of every book you’ve ever read. You don’t want to be a copycat. That’s bad writing.
But, at the same time, we’re a sum total of our experiences. I grew up reading stories and watching movies about small backwater towns taken over by monsters. Those tales really resonated with me because I lived in a small backwater town. It was personal. Growing up, I looked forward to the day that I could write my own “backwater town versus evil” story. Is it an original concept? No. A billion writers have used it—a lot of them better than I could. In fact, Stephen King uses it for nearly every single novel he’s ever written. But I’ve been chomping at the bit to do a story like that all my life—to put my own spin on it—and I don’t feel like I should not write it, just because it’s been done.
I suppose I could spend my career chasing after that one idea that no one has ever, ever thought of. Ever. In the history of humankind. Ever. But, if I did that, I'd probably never get started writing because it's all been done, to some degree. I'm not saying I'm not looking to chart the uncharted--but I imagine, should I ever find that corner of the imagination that no human mind has ever tapped, it'll be by dumb accident. In the meantime, I want to write the stories that I wanted to read growing up. I like the classic “guy in a fedora hunts monsters” from time to time. I like alien invasion stories. Those stories meant something to me and that’s what I want to write. There’s a reason those stories have been told and re-told. There’s a potency to those concepts that speak to something deep inside us. And, while those stories have been around forever, they’ve never been told by me. Never with my own experiences thrown in; my own unique way of looking at things. In concept, they may sound tired, but I encourage you to look beneath the surface and find what’s unique about it.
What’s unique is me.
So, where do you find the balance between originality and treading the well-traveled paths of previous stories?