Being original, copy-catting, or reinventing the wheel?

Several years ago, I was part of a group of amateur writers. It used to be pretty organised by then — there were many RL meetings with discussions, newsletters, published books and so forth — but one topic was the favourite of many: should a writer strive always for originality, coming up with new ideas that nobody has thought of before? Or would it be fine to get someone else’s idea, write about it, and come up with a different ending and/or twist to the plot?

The discussions were pretty much endless. One faction was always very eager to claim that authors should always be completely and absolutely original. “Even if the idea is worthless for a story?” Well, yes, so they argued: readers would demand to read something they never read before. And, so they said in public, nothing is more boring for a “pro reader” (i.e. someone who basically reads everything that gets published out there…) to see an idea that has already been covered on an obscure magazine from 30 or 40 years ago…

By contrast, the opposing faction claimed that absolute originality could be overrated. Between reading an original, bad idea, and reading something with a good idea that has been exploited before, they argued that the latter would be better. There are always different ways to present the same idea over and over again. Fairy tales are a good example, they can be repeated with different settings and scenarios, and there will be always something “new” in them.

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