Is Originality is Dead? Part ONE

Posted January 6, 2017 by Emz Chang in Investigated / 8 Comments

Does originality exist in YA? Part One

This is going to be a two-part discussion. Mainly because if I stuck everything in one post, it would be insanely long. Today, I’m going to go over why it originality appears to be dead. Next week, we’ll discuss if it actually is. Now back to the question. Is originality dead in YA?

I don’t think originality is dead. How can something be dead if it never really existed anyways? You see, pretty much after Homer’s stories from way long ago, there are technically no books with “original stories”. Every story and character type from then on are considered tropes of some kind, known as archetypes.

Nowadays, everyone compares stories to others. People want to know “How much The Hunger Games influenced The Maze Runner?” or “Is Percy Jackson a rip off of Harry Potter?” But they are all really asking the wrong questions. Instead of comparing “modern” stories to one another, the question should be why do these stories seem similar, despite the different characters and different struggles?.

It’s probably because all these books that people are comparing, the ones that are copying this book or that book, have the same basic skeleton, both in plot line and character structure. The authors have simply employed the same archetypes. There are archetypes for all sorts of things. The characters themselves, the situation they find themselves in, and even the symbolism that surrounds them.

Archetypes in literature have existed for so long, in essence, you cannot hate on Percy Jackson for having similar elements as Harry Potter when Harry Potter isn’t the most unique book or story have that basic plotline. The whole “hero goes on a quest with friends to prove himself” plotline has been done so many times. It is not unique to Harry Potter.

Let’s just go over some of the more common archetypes.

Character Archetypes

In a novel, you’ll typically encounter many different types of characters. Some of them might remind of others from other books, even if they are complete opposites because they fall under the same archetype.

The Hero

Probably the used the least often. Just kidding, I meant the most often. The hero is pretty straightforward. “The hero” is the… well, a hero. The hero is the character that usually is entrusted with a task and one that works to save/restore peace to a community. Usually, there is some sort of initiation or rite of passage involved too. Harry, Percy, Katniss, Tris, even Clary would fall under the archetype of “the hero”.

Mentors

Like the hero, the role of “the mentor” is pretty self-explanatory. Mentors are teachers who are often viewed as role models or even mother/father figures to younger characters. They usually teach skills that characters need to survive. Dumbledore, Chiron, Hamish are all examples of mentors.

Loyal Retainers

These characters are essentially the hero’s loyal sidekicks. Hermione and Ron for Harry. Annabeth and Grover for Percy. Jace, Alec, and Isabelle for Clary.

The Devil Figure

The devil figure is pretty much the devil of the story, the villain, the hero’s enemy and nemesis. The devil figure’s main purpose, his/her whole reason for existence is to oppose the hero. So basically, Voldy, Snow, Kronus…

The Evil Figure with the Ultimately Good Heart

Kind of like an antihero in a sense, this character archetype describes a character we see as a villain who can/has redeemed him/herself in some way. Remember Snape? I think he falls under this character archetype. (Loki too?)


The next two are my favorite! (More like ones I could do without).

The Damsel in Distress

Hmmm, I wonder why kind of character this archetype describes? What could it be? Surely not a vulnerable woman who waits to be rescued by her hero? -__- Thankfully, this character archetype is less common these days as modern times evolve to empower women instead of seeing them as a prop.

The Star-Crossed Lovers

Romeo and Juliet anyone? Anyone? These are the characters that fall in love. A love that is fated to end in disaster because of some sort of disapproval.



Situation Archetypes

Now that you know why Percy reminds you of Harry, let’s move on to the fun part. The situation archetypes.

The Quest

The hero’s search for someone/something that the community needs for whatever reason. Example: Percy’s quest to find the golden fleece.

The Journey

Kind of a quest, but a tad more complicated. Instead of a person or object, the hero is looking for some truth or information and includes the series of trials and roadblocks the hero must face along the way.

The Task

Remember when Percy and Annabeth had the weight of the world on their shoulders? Literally, like when they help up the world because Atlas was being dumb? That falls under this motif where a superhuman feat has to be accomplished in order to achieve the end goal.

Death and Rebirth

The most common situation archetype that exists, this motif describes a situation where something dies and that death is accompanied by some sort of rebirth. When the end of something brings about the start of something new.

Battle Between Good and Evil

Good vs evil. Enough said.

The Magic Weapon

Percy’s sword Riptide, Thor’s hammer are all magic weapons the respective heroes need to combat evil, continue a journey, prove himself, etc.



Okay, that was a lot of info. But now you should be able to see why some stories remind us of other ones. It’s just like the authors used the similar recipes, but used different ingredients and threw them in the mixing bowl in a different order.

As a sidenote, please remember, I am in no way shape or form an expert in literature. So if some of this is not entirely accurate, blame my old high school English teacher.

What do you think?
Do the existence of archetypes prove there is no originally in literature?
Stick around, part two will be up next week!

Emz Chang

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8 responses to “Is Originality is Dead? Part ONE

  1. Tsk, tsk! Blaming your teacher! LOL! I think this is pretty accurate. there aren’t many original thoughts under the sun. Like you, I’m glad they’ve (mostly) done away with the damsel in distress character. It’s about time!

    • I think the form of damsel in distress character that we’re used to seeing, the version that can be found in fairy tales is mostly gone. At least in YA. But I still see these strong female heroines melt/need a male savior in some ways. It drives me bonkers. And yes, my teacher deserves the blame for supplying me information that I was too lazy to research and verify. ?

      Thanks for stopping by Tiffany! 🙂

  2. Such an interesting discussion. And I love how you backed it up with actual knowledge haha. You make a really good point about all the archetypes, but in my opinion the originality of books comes from how the books evoke emotion, how the writing dances off the page, and how the characters speak to each reader. I realize that everything has basically been done before, but if you think about it, the originality of a book is kind of determined by the reader because every reading experience depends on what you bring to the book as well. I don’t know if that makes sense? Hahah, but I don’t disagree with you.

    – Lefty @ The Left-Handed Book Lover

    • It makes a lot of sense! I agree with everything you have to say. You’re just a bit early to the party. That’s next Friday’s discussion. ?

      Thanks for stopping by Lefty! 🙂

  3. This is a thoughtful post. If originality is the repetition of character archetypes and situational tropes, then all originality for all genres is dead. All books have elements or threads we can find in others. I think YA has become very homogeneous with identical character archetypes and situations, making very specific tropes that are repeated. I agree there might not be as much diversity in YA any longer, which is why I largely avoid it. I agree with Lefty on several points. We all bring our own individual reading histories to the table, so a new book’s originality can look different to each reader.

    • Diversity is definitely dead in some aspects but it still exists in others, just in different ways. The general outline of a story may not be original, but the story can still be unique. More on this on Friday. ?

      Thanks for stopping by Charlie! 🙂