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Writing Excuses 7.27: The Problem of Originality

It’s important to be original, but is it possible to be TOO original? Further, is it possible that we over-value originality?

Dan raises the question in regards to James Cameron’s Avatar, which made lots of money and was widely enjoyed, but which was also roundly criticized for being a story we’ve already heard before. Christopher Paolini’s Eragon is similarly criticized. It is solid execution upon a story cycle that science fiction and fantasy fans are already intimately familiar with.

Howard talks about borrowing “uplift” from David Brin, Mary points out that David Brin borrowed it from Christian Missionaries in Africa, and Brandon then ponders aloud whether this ‘cast is going to be of any use to any of you.

Each of us have struggled with this. It’s exceedingly unlikely that you won’t. The point? Originality is not the be-all, end-all some make it out to be, and authors need to take care not to pursue it to the point that they miss other objectives.

Meme of the Week: “If I pee far, it’s because I stand on the shoulders of giants.” — Howard Tayler


Regarding riding mounted beasts — make the cost to the rider so high that it’s almost never worth it. Now create circumstances under which it’s always worth it.

Sharpe’s Rifles, by Bernard Cornwell, narrated by Frederick Davidson

Writing Excuses 7.3: Fauna and Flora

Animals and plants, round two! We begin this episode with examples where we think people did their flora and fauna wrong, or poorly, or at least in ways we can poke easy holes in. Our examples include:

  • Pitch Black
  • Twilight
  • Avatar
  • And then we get tired of negative examples, and talk about The Mote in God’s Eye.
We then attempt to brainstorm some flora and fauna on our world of mutagenic meteor dust. Pizza-trees, armored buffalo, fire-dandelions, and more… and that’s before we even get started populating the coast, and Brandon calls can-of-worms on the project and hands the brainstorming to you, the listener.

Populate Excustoria’s coast with some magically, meteorically mutated life.

Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card, narrated by Stefan Rudniki. It’s a fantastic example of well-constructed flora and fauna, and it’s also a good example of how to make a sequel almost completely unlike the book that came before it.

Writing Excuses 6.10: Scott Card’s M.I.C.E. Quotient

Orson Scott Card’s M.I.C.E. quotient is a concept from his books Character and Viewpoint and How to Write Science Fiction. M.I.C.E. stands for Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event, and can serve as a way to identify what kind of story you’re telling, and which elements you might need to spend more time fleshing out.

Mary walks us through each of the M.I.C.E. elements, and then we discuss ways in which writers can apply the quotient for improving their writing.

Then we try to take the Billy Goats Gruff tale and spin it as four different stories, one each for the M.I.C.E. elements, but that proves to be a pretty ambitious undertaking for us. Oh, the stumbling.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Enchantment, by Orson Scott Card, narrated by Stefan Rudnicki.

Writing Prompt: Apply the M.I.C.E. quotient to Red Riding Hood, and write at least one page of story per element. Wow, this sounds a lot like homework.

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