Originality is a Lie

There’s no such thing as a truly original idea, and there never has been

Graphic+by+Leni+Santos%2FSAC.Media.

Graphic by Leni Santos/SAC.Media.

People will tell you that there’s no such thing as an original idea anymore. Movies today are usually remakes, sequels or based on a true story or book. Songs on the radio all sound the same. Even books get boring with the spike in every author wanting to write a romance, a dystopia, a fantasy or a political statement. Everything is either based on or inspired by some other piece of work, but that’s the way it’s always been.

Whenever artists start getting into their craft, being original is not usually a priority as the easiest way to learn is to imitate. Artists draw using references and take inspiration from other artists. Many artists even trace drawings to better understand how the basics of gestures, figures and shape.

Musical artists start practicing by singing along to their favorite songs. Some of the most popular artists today, such as Shawn Mendes and Charlie Puth, were discovered through their covers on Youtube.

Even writers take inspiration from their favorite stories. Learning authors will usually cringe at old drafts knowing that their stories were full of overused tropes and sometimes even contain a cast of characters based on the people around them. A few authors will even admit that prior to writing original stories, they worked on fanfiction for their favorite shows, movies and books. Imitation isn’t always the best form of flattery, but it certainly helps the cycle start over as creators discover their own styles and voices, and others begin to take inspiration from them.

All creative works have to take inspiration from somewhere; it’s why “What inspired you?” has become a standard question in interviews with singers, writers, directors and artists. Some will say that their loved ones inspired them. Others will say that they saw or heard something that really resonated with them and couldn’t get out of their head.

Many will even blatantly tell you that their work was inspired by another. Of course, there are the movies based on books such as the Harry Potter franchise, Marvel Cinematic Universe and Hunger Games trilogy. However, even those can be part of a long chain of inspiration. For example, The Fifty Shades of Grey series was initially a fanfiction based on the Twilight series. However, each book in the Twilight series is based on a literary classic. “Twilight” is based on “Pride and Prejudice,” “New Moon is based on “Romeo and Juliet,” ”Eclipse” is based on “Wuthering Heights,” and “Breaking Dawn” is based on “Midsummer’s Night Dream.” Not even your childhood favorites are safe, because, in case you didn’t know, “The Lion King” is basically “Hamlet” but with animals.

Plus, it’s not like any of these plots are actually as unique as you might think when you break them down to the bare bones of every story. No, not everything needs to have a plucky hero or happy ending. However, most stories tend to follow a formula. Anyone who’s taken an English class after elementary should have gotten familiar with the hero’s journey. Blake Snyder, author of “Save the Cat!” even proved that movies follow a similar formula and that it would be easy to write one yourself using his beat sheet.

In any case, we’re being surrounded by the same tropes, characters, images and phrases everyday. It’s not like we can help it. Humanity has a tendency to flock to the familiar and find security in what they already know. Originality has never existed, as our brains have evolved to take inspiration and form new ideas through the parts of the many others that have existed before. Even if we were to find a piece of work that can be described as “unique,” we all have a tendency to compare and contrast. There’s no way to escape being reminded of a similar piece of work in some way, shape or form. There is a need to seek out familiarity in the unfamiliar.

At the end of it all, sometimes inspiration can flow into the most intimate parts of our lives. We subconsciously change ourselves upon finding inspiration. We change the way we act and dress because we can envision who we want to become in our favorite people and characters. Despite the countless speeches about being unique individuals, we ourselves are not originals.