One of the best tells of a novice writer amongst other writers, or experienced con-goers, or whatever, is when they go into great detail about their stories, which haven’t been written yet, to an audience that doesn’t care. I know because I’m guilty here.
The best tell though, is when a writer says how original their work is. They’ll then go on to tell you about how awesome it all is, but of course, you can’t understand because you have no reference frame whatsoever to filter this person’s epic through.
Originality fails. It fails to enthrall a reader. It fails to illustrate the themes the author wished to highlight. It fails to make any difference and it fails to get published.
Let’s say that you do muscle through writing this unlike-anything-ever-written-before monstrosity. I assume, that since it’s totally original, you didn’t use any writing exercises to limber up, or any other writer’s process. So you’re like a farmer that mines the ore and refines it, draws up his own custom schematics for a tractor that runs on diesel he refined himself, and using his own specially-made methodology for crop-rotation and growth. Oh, and he gathered his own seeds too. FROM THE WILD. (More on this in my next article, Force Multiplier!)
So you’re done. You’ve got a manuscript covered in the tears of your lost, off-the-grid youth (or the tears of the Starbucks barista who had to smell you each morning as you tapped away on the keyboard and gave her creeper looks). Now you hit up an editor or an agent with it. The first question they ask? What genre is it? What other stories in that genre is it most like?
Just like a real estate entrepreneur finding a run-down 8-plex in a good neighborhood, locking it up with a no-fault Purchase & Sale Agreement, and then finding investors, you’ve got to describe the deal. Can you imagine that real estate up-and-comer saying to Uncle Moneybags, “There’s nothing like it, man! It’s so awesome! It’s got the *pewpew*! and then the *CRASH* and then the *COP CHASE*” (If you’re noticing that this sounds pretty cliche, that’s because most “Totally original stories” are, when it comes right down to it).
Stick to the facts: 8-plex. Good neighborhood. Assessed cashflow. Alternately: Genre, Similar Works, Synopsis. Investors want facts, not the hot-air schemes of a career egotist. By failing to tell them what other deals they’ve seen go down that looks like the one you’re offering, you’re essentially telling them that you’ve got no idea what kind of deal you’re offering them. Publishers, and the rest of the business world, view that as risk. What’s worse, it’s not a risk easily mitigated. Pass, we’ll go for more stories about pasty vampire abs and trite, vaguely offensive Native American werewolves.
As if that isn’t bad enough, saying your work is totally original, with nothing like it, means that they can’t formulate a marketing plan even if they do make the ill-advised choice to pick it up. “What do you mean it doesn’t fit into a genre. Don’t you read? Everything fits into a genre!” (I’m currently working on a Paranormal Teeny-Bop Zombie Slash Bunny Ranch Fic Starring Edward Norton as Hugh Hefner. See! That’ was a genre. A horrible, horrible genre)
Another point to consider: What if the reason why your story is so original is because someone else wrote something exactly like it, but it sucked, and so you’ve never read it? Maybe, for a first-work, you could do something a bit more normal, reach an audience, and leave the “original” stuff to erudite literature buffs and cinephiles, you know, the people who handle it normally. But wait! Actually, I have on good authority from said buffs that they carpet-bomb their own stories with references to obscure shit that no one recognizes! That means not even that crowd’s fiction is original!
Holy crap. It’s almost like human endeavor is exactly anti-Objectivist! It’s almost like everything is built on a bedrock laid by those who went before us!
Maybe I’m not standing on the shoulders of giants (I am), but I’ll be glad to stand on a midget’s shoulders if it means I might produce a better product for my fans.
Oh right. The fans. You know, those people who are supposed to read your story?
If there’s nothing like it, then how are they going to find your story and read it?
Oh right. They won’t.
Because Originality Fails.