Tag: originality


Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Last week‘s look forward to this year mentioned that superheroes aren’t going away. Superhero works may become the new Western because the new genre doesn’t carry the historical problems while still providing for morality plays. Right now, though, the success of superhero works is mainly through adaptations of existing characters and titles. Marvel Comics and DC Comics have seen success with the transition of their works to movies and television.

Naturally, the success of superhero movies and TV series are creating a backlash. Part of it is the source – comic books have been considered for children and teenagers, not something an adult would be caught reading, works like Watchmen and Maus notwithstanding. Another part of it are two decades, the Eighties and the Ninties, when original works were more popular than adaptations, unlike the rest of the history of film[http://psychodrivein.com/lost-in-translation-history-of-adaptations-wrapping-up/].

Is it possible to create an original superhero TV series not based on an existing character or setting? There have been attempts in the past. Mutant X lasted three seasons in syndication and ended after the its studio was sold, though the series was originally meant to tie in with Marvel’s X-Men until Fox sued. Misfits of Science ran one season in the mid-Eighties. Heroes survived four seasons despite a writer’s strike and network interference. The track record isn’t great for original superhero works, but the audience didn’t exist then like it does now.

Television may be the better medium to attempt an original superhero work. Movie studios are risk adverse and the budget to do a superhero movie well may be too high for an unknown work. No one wants to be responsible for a $150 million superbomb. Television is more competitive today, so risks need to be taken just to get viewers. What might not be popular in theatres could garner attention on the small screen; the admission cost is lower with the biggest investment being time, not money. Television also allows for viewing on the viewer’s schedule, thanks to time shifting through DVRs/PVRs and, going old school, VCRs.

They key to succeed with an original superhero work is to embrace the tropes. The colourful costumes, the obvious heroes and villains, the morality, everything found in the comics need to be taken seriously, even if the situation is bizarre. The DC television series have had success because the characters were treated seriously. A man returning home to clean up his city, a teenager whose original mission was over by the time she reached Earth, and a forensics analyst trying to clear his father’s name are solid ground to build from, and Arrow, Supergirl, and The Flash all did that successfully.

The next catch, though, is to not be just superheroes. DC’s television universe, known as the Arrowverse after the first series to air, and Marvel’s cinematic universe aren’t just superhero stories. Arrow includes both family and crime drama. Supergirl sees Kara adjusting after getting to Earth too late to raise her cousin while dealing with a demanding boss and helping her adopted sister. Ant-Man is a superhero heist movie. Iron Man is a superhero techno-thriller. Captain America: The First Avenger was a superhero pulp war story while its sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a superhero political thriller. Even the original movie The Incredibles is a superhero family drama crossed with a spy thriller. Pure superheroics can happen – look at The Avengers and Justice League – but an original work will needs its own spin on superheroes.

Television does long form dramas well. Character development needs time, something that a two hour film just doesn’t have. A new superhero character can be introduced, with personality and abilities laid out over the course of a few episodes. Too slow will lose viewers, though, but that’s true whatever the genre. The goal is to present a character who is a superhero. Marvel’s approach to heroes may work well here; the characters have powers, but they aren’t useful in dealing with the more serious problems in their day-to-day life. Peter Parker may have spider-based powers, but they haven’t helped him deal with school, job, or family.

The series’ world can be introduced to the audience over time. There’s no need to go into the history of supers in the first ten minutes of the first episode. Details can be filled in, from a TV in the background mentioning a hero in a different city to a character, main or supporting, making a mention. Building that world, though, needs to be done before the series starts. The world of the new superhero needs to make sense to the viewers, especially when asking them to suspend their disbelief on how physics works in the series. How are supers treated? Will the superhero character needs a secret ID and how will he or she maintain it? Who are the rest of the cast? Even DC’s solo heroes on television have an extensive supporting cast backing them.

For film, the big problem is getting everything packed into a two hour time span. An origins film could work, but that often means that everything else will get overshadowered as the character becomes a superhero. Smallville spent ten seasons showing how Clark Kent became Superman; movies don’t have that luxury. Audiences will be showing up to see superheroic action, unless the marketing can convey properly what the movie is about. Film also has the potential for a larger budget, allowing for cutting edge special effects, even with the likelihood of an original superhero movie having a lower budget due to risk aversion. It’s probably best to get the actual origins – how the character became a superhero – out of the way early but have the repercussions of them last through the film. If the origins are interesting, as seen in Deadpool, Captain America: The First Avenger, and Iron Man, then make them the focus of the movie. The goal is to tell a story that will keep audiences in their seats.

One problem that does occur in comics and is starting to occur with the both Marvel and DC’s cinematic universes is continuity lockout, where readers need to be familiar with the entire output of a company to understand what’s happening. DC’s Arrowverse have had three crossover events where the casts of Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow appear on an episode of each series in an interconnected storyline. If a viewer somehow wasn’t aware of the other series, the new characters would be a mystery, even if the episode gave enough detail to allow the view to get through to the end. Continuity lockout can happen even if there is just one series if the show lasts long enough. Supernatural uses a “Previously On” segment to get viewers up to speed with what’s needed for the upcoming episode, but even there, a new viewer jumping on in season 10 may not be aware of what happened to Sam and Dean’s mother, detailed in season 1.

Superheroes aren’t going away any time soon. Adaptations of superhero comics will continue to hit television and movie theatres. There is room for an original superhero work in those media, but it will take effort to make the work successful. Just following on the coattails of the leaders won’t draw an audience. The new work, movie or TV series, needs to stand on its own. It’ll take work, but it is possible.

Posted on by Steven Savage

people identity

(Way With Worlds is published at Seventh Sanctum, MuseHack, and Ongoing Worlds.)

In a strange bit of irony, Im still talking about originality here. Seems sort of weird to keep covering a subject on being more original by not shutting up about it, but here goes.

So there’s one more subject to cover for Originality, of that hard to find, illusionary yet somehow real, quest for “Originality” that so many of us seek, few seem to find, and fewer seem satisfied with. Perhaps thats the point- if we’re not always looking then we’ll not be original.  Whatever that is.

In fact, the whole subject is “we.” Us, me – and specifically you.

As noted, I consider “originality” largely illusionary, something whose specter hovers over us only because we believe in it so much. What is more important in originality and world building is to bring your world to life. Even the most “unoriginal” world brought to life will intrigue and involve people. A seemingly boring person is probably far more interesting than a mannequin.

You bring the world to life.

Too many of us resort to tropes. to well known story elements, in our world creation. These bits of social, cultural, and literary elements are easy to use, but rarely connect and come to life unless you do things right. Frankensteining together a setting of previous pieces, much like the original Frankenstein, tends to result in trouble and is something not truly alive. It’s up to you to make it work.

Again it all comes down to you.

So if you want originality, want a world that’s alive and memorable and involving, you’re what makes it all unique.  Original – whatever that is.

You’re the secret ingredient to get a good world, and perhaps even “originality” whatever rh shell that is. No matter what you make or do the one thing that no one else can do, no one else can bring in is you.

So let’s ask just what you bring to your world and your tale and your quest for originality and uniqueness.

A Unique Perspective

No matter how common your life may seem, no matter how boring it may seem, your life is your own. How you see things, how you view them, how you interpret them is going to be something no one else can have. Your world and all the works derived from it will reflect that.

Think about how you see something affects stories and world buildings. You may have a unique view on some given relationships, or a different take on cooking, or can relate to a character in a way few others can. Your work is infused by how you see things – and in turn, that affects how people see your setting.

I’m not saying your life is going to be fascinating or interesting, nor that your take on things will be as well, but it will be yours. Work with that because you know it better than anyone – and that lets you use it to infuse life into your creations.  Real life.

Take It Farther: You can take this farther by understanding the unique view you bring to your world and world building, and the tales and games that follow.

Unique Skills

Then there’s your unique skillets that inform your world building and your creativity.

Now skills are important in world building because:

  1. You can write about people that use your skills. Ever read a story where someone clearly didn’t know the lifestyle and life experiences of some people? Yeah, you can avoid that embarrassment in your settings.
  2. You understand how that skill-based part of the setting you write may work. In turn, your world becomes more believable. For myself, I’ve found my love of cooking added an edge to understanding setting design.
  3. You might be able to use the skills right in your world building, writing, game development and so on. If you’re good at explaining technology, if you’ve got a flair for the poetic, if you know the right words for something, that works right into your world building and how you communicate it. Imagine being a programmer who writes games, in a cyberpunk setting, so you can make it even more believable as well as well coded.
  4. You have unique experiences with your skills, job, etc. that can provide inspiration. Much as you have a unique perspective on things in general, your hands-on experience may give you many ideas. One of my friends with military service used that experience to take a serious look at military SF and it’s many assumptions, and come up with new, unique take that was more informed.

Sure you may not think you have any unique or interesting skills. You may write, but so do many others. You may cook, but so do many others. You may code, but so do many others. However this is your unique set of skills, your perspective, and your huge list of abilities, knowledge, and talent that you can mine for a better world building experience.

Take it from a Program Manager who cooks vegan food and writes about Geek Careers and Creativity. We’re all unique in what we do, in some way. if only in combination.

Take It Farther: Ask what skills you have that relate to characters or settings in the world you build – can you better understand certain parts or better create certain characters. In turn, ask if any of them can just help your world building or how you implement the world.

Unique Experiences

Any writer saying they don’t use personal experiences in their world-creation and creativity is ignorant or lying. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt on “ignorant” if you say you don’t do it.

We all use our personal experiences in our art. We really have no choice because our experiences are how we assemble a consistent story of our real life, so in turn we’ll use them in our world building. Our broken heart, our feeling that school is frustrating for so many, our knowledge of working in an ER, all those experiences inform what we make.

So we might as well admit it, realize it, and put it to use as world-makers.

Our unique experiences – and much like our perspective, they really are completely unique at least in combination – inform everything we do.  We can’t get away from them because they’re us.

There’s a combination of events, unusual happenings, and so on that is unique to you. Use that in your world creation to bring it to life and make it “original” by realizing it and using it.

Take It Farther: What experiences do you have that stand out in your mind? Are any relevant to your world building? Are any “common” but you had something about them that made them unique?

So Go On And Be You

These things, perspective, skills, and experience are yours. No one has quite the background you do – and the combination of elements is probably very unique.

Even the things that seem common to you are probably unique in combination. Sure being a computer programmer may not seem unique, being into techno may not be unique, being into surfing may not be unique, and liking to do baroque may not be unique. But a techno-loving programming surfer who can make a mean set of ribs is comparatively rare.

Realize these things, put them to use, and appreciate them. They’ll help you grow as a world builder, provide unexpected tools, and finally give you another shot at worrying less about originality. When you appreciate your uniqueness, you might see just where your work is unique and “original.”

And stop worrying about it and get back to work making worlds.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, publishes books on career and culture at http://www.informotron.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at http://www.stevensavage.com/.

Posted on by Steven Savage


(Way With Worlds runs  at MuseHackSeventh Sanctum, and Ongoing Worlds)

Every worldbuilder, author, artist has had that moment. That moment where originality seems to be a fleeting illusion.

Perhaps they feel that they can’t seem to do anything original. Every idea they have seems done (and perhaps done better). The fear of being accused of derivation. The sense everything they do seems to be alike.

Perhaps they feel there just isn’t anything left. Everything has been done, there’s nothing left to do.

So let’s address that issue that many a worldbuilder faces – how do we deal with the need to be original? Fortunately there’s an easy answer.

Screw originality, who needs to worry about it?

Pointless Quest, Pointless Question

The need for originality that seems to trouble many a creative person, reminds me a lot of writer’s block. Writer’s block, in my mind, really is something that only has power over us as we name it – and having named it we’ve given it power and made our fear of it a trap. Originality is a case of where we have this vague idea of something and, feeling we must find it, fear its lack.

It’s all fear with little substance.

Let’s ask what originality is, anyway.

Something never seen before? Impossible because there will have to be some similarity in your ideas or your world to something or no one will ever have an idea of what’s going on.

Something new? New may be a matter of perspective. I’m sure with enough work anyone can find a similarity between two ideas. I once jokingly said the anime “Attack On Titan” and the surrealist Cartoon “Adventure Time” are the same – a shapeshifter and a combat expert in a post-apocalyptic future helped out by a slightly off-kilter scientist. So what really is “new” or “different”?

In fact, sometimes the unoriginality is original in another way. I’m reminded of an episode of the show Remember WENN called “Between a Rock and a Soft Place,” where the crew of a small radio station did a show called “Same Dane, Private Eye.” However this hardboiled thriller was really a retelling of Hamlet, with the prince as a two-fisted detective. Original or not? Original in combination of unoriginal ideas? Your guess is as good as mine.

Something where there’s nothing else like it on the market? Depends on your idea of the market – and many a market don’t seem to care about originality.

So I’ going to suggest “originality” is not a solid thing, it’s a somewhat relative, situational term. Useful, indeed, but something that’s better as a whole because it’s parts don’t exactly some up. A map not a destination.

The thing is when we treat originality as a solid thing, then we seek something that isn’t solid. When we don’t find it (and worse, when we’re in a funk, it can be harder), we become depressed or angry. But we’re angry something we can never truly be said to have, because the term isn’t solid.

So stop worrying and get back to worldbuilding.

The real question of your setting is “Does It Work.”

Integration Over Consternation

So really the question a good worldbuilder should be asking is how do their ideas hold together. Does the setting make sense, is the history believable, does the magic work, is the technology properly explained. Does the world functioning a way that people “get it” – and thus they can buy into it.

See, good worldbuilding means creating a setting that makes sense and functions, that people can grasp intuitively. It doesn’t have to be “original.” In fact it may be rather unoriginal. You could even be exploring common ideas so originality isn’t on the agenda.

But if it works and comes to life, people can connect with it.

Part of the fear of unoriginality (but only part) is that one is resorting to tropes and common ideas. Dead concepts, long ago mummified and propped up in many a story, wayposts saying “here’s your big ‘ol standard plot.” We’re afraid, in short of a world that’s just “here we go again.”

But when your world comes to life, when the ideas tie together, then it’s not a world of tropes – it’s a good, solid setting. You may see things that have been seen before, but it’s alive, and engaging, and interesting. It’s also yours, your unique vision, spinning away like an orrery.

Tropes are uninteresting and laughable when dead. But when alive . .. then they’re just common ideas working.

Imagine a bog-standard fantasy tale with your usual ripoff D&D party – the fighter, the wizard, the thief, and the cleric. Sounds boring and stupid. But imagine in brought to life, with magic versus religion, a warrior’s code ruling a person’s life, a shadowy criminals past haunting them . . . and then you have a story that could be interesting. Because it’s alive, even if the individual parts seem like tropes and stereotypes.

Well, seem like tropes and stereotypes until you realize how lively they are. Maybe tropes are what happen when you rip archetypes and common concepts out of their settings and just have their ghosts haunting your works.

Stop Worrying

So stop worrying and go build your damn world. Make it work, live and breathe. Make it function. Make sure it makes sense.

You’ll make a better setting, have more fun, worry less, and get more done. Let Originality be something that’s a laudable goal, perhaps even a good measuring stick, but one you measure by the liveliness of you setting, and one that you on’t let dominate you.

Besides, maybe when you focus on making that world well, originality will take care of itself, because we all know when our minds really get going that’s when the real surprises start . . .

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, publishes books on career and culture at http://www.informotron.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at http://www.stevensavage.com/.

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