Mailbag: Am I original?
Q: I know the line about how there are only seven stories, or some such thing. I get that everyone is inspired by someone, and so there’s no way to make something that’s truly “original” in the sense that no one has ever done it before.
And yet one of the roadblocks that I continually allow to keep me from completing any work is the concern that my story basically doesn’t offer anything that hasn’t already been done by someone else more skilled than I am. If I ever even manage to complete a volume of this, I expect comparisons. I’m not worried so much about people accusing me of ripping anything off, but it’s more of a sense of “why am I making this if someone else has already done it better?”
A.: Here’s the thing. First of all, you’re right. We all grapple with these issues, and we all want to make sure that we’re not unintentionally walking all over someone else’s creative territory. And that’s noble. But you’re right. There are no “new” ideas. So, how do you avoid it?
Pour yourself into the work
To make this comic good — to make it really great — you’re going to write, and re-write, and re-write before you start drawing. And in that process you’re going to identify concepts and push them. Dive deeper. Intensify the things that make the story progress.
In doing this, you’re going to have to reach deeper and deeper into your own psyche as a writer. And that means that this work is going to be more and more uniquely YOU as you craft this storyline. Sure, if you just progress through these story beats without examining them and re-writing them, you might end up doing something that’s somewhat derivative.
But if you’re putting plenty of YOU into the world-building/plot/arcs, you’re going to end up with a unique work that will stand on its own.
In short: Are you worried your story sounds derivative? Write another draft that takes those individual story beats and makes them more intense.
Be aware, but don’t obsess
It’s good to have an awareness of the existing works that share creative space with your own. And, by all means, use that knowledge to avoid sharing too many similarities with those works. But once you’ve done your due diligence (creatively speaking), it’s time to focus on your story — and your story alone. If you keep looking around at other people’s work — even with these noble intentions — you’re not spending enough time paying attention to your own work.
Bottom line: Clear out a little creative space by making sure your work doesn’t share too many aspects with this existing property. And after that, focus on your work. Again, if you’re really hyper-focused on your own creative work, it would be almost impossible to make a significantly identical work to someone else’s comic.