Is Originality in YA Dead or Not? Part 2

Posted January 13, 2017 by Emz Chang in Investigated / 1 Comment

Does originality exist in YA? Part Two

Last week, I went over why originality is dead, especially in YA. I talked about archetypes and how a truly original story can technically never exist. But our discussion doesn’t end there. There always has to be a “but” right?

Like I said last week, thanks to tropes and motifs, I think the baseline, the foundation of stories can never really be original. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think books can’t be unique, that there’s no difference between Book A and Book B even if they employ the same writing strategies and archetypes.

Even if their characters embody similar roles as others in other stories or if the plot is parallel to that of another book, a book can still set itself apart. It may not be original, but it still can be unique. There are so many ways authors can make their books different from the rest.

The Writing

The writing itself can be used to make a book more unique. The basic story may be the same, but the way it’s told won’t be.

Every author has his/her writing style. Rick Riordan doesn’t write the same way as J.K. Rowling. They don’t write emotions the same way, characters the same way, even the same basic plotline the same way. They have their own flourishes, their own strengths. Maybe one is more prone to use descriptive language while the other has a more concise writing style. Maybe one focuses more on creating emotions from the plot while the other is better at drawing out the emotions of individual characters. Speaking of characters…

The Characters

Characters can help authors differentiate their books from others. Regardless if a book is more character driven or plot driven, characters are like humans. When well written, they are unique and different, just like every one of us. Percy Jackson and Harry Potter may both represent the hero character archetype, but they are distinctively their own character even though they have similar qualities and core values. At the end of the day, despite everything they appear to have in common, they still have very different personalities and it is those personalities that really set them apart.

It’s not just their personalities, but also how they react to other characters; their bonds with their friends, how they treat their enemies. That can set characters apart too. Whether there are characters of color, of different races and ethnicities, sexual orientation, gender, abilities, the level of diversity can contribute to a book’s uniqueness as well.

The rest of the characters can be different too. Not only in personality but also the role they play. Authors are not forced to use the same ingredients when writing their novels. They do not have to include the exact measurements of one cup of hero and two cups of loyal retainers. They have the liberty to mix it up and change the measurements and even the ingredients.

The Plot

Besides setting characters apart, another aspect of a book that can make it unique is the plot itself. The basic skeleton plot may be similar but like with characters, authors are free to change the recipe and create their own. They can throw different twists and turns and set their heroes on different journeys.

Besides the plot itself, the world in which it takes place can make a story feel “original” even if it is created with one of the age old archetype recipes. Percy’s world of Greek gods in America is very different from Harry’s world of wizards in Great Britain. Katniss’ time in the Arena is different from Thomas’ time in the Maze. Much like character development, world building can be viewed as a secret ingredient, something special that sets the story apart from others like it.

In Conclusion

So basically, what I’m trying to say is that on the macroscopic level, there is no original story. Boy meets girl, they’re from different places and backgrounds, they face a big problem. Boy gets put into a new situation, makes friends, gets sent on a quest. Girl faces trouble, she makes new friends and they band together to defeat their foe. Those stories have been told millions of times. Over and over. But yet, there’s something that separates all those stories.

With their writing, authors have the ability to make their stories more unique. They have the power to change the recipe. They can leave ingredients out; maybe this hero doesn’t need a mentor like Percy or Harry. They can add new ones in. They can change the quantity in which they appear.

And beyond working with archetypes to set novels apart, the writing itself, the world building, the character development and personalities, those can all change the mood and feel of a book. They can make a plot that’s done multiple times feel brand new.

So is originality dead in YA? Maybe. If not, then it’s on its deathbed. But uniqueness is not on its way out. And as long as that stays alive and thrives, we’ll always have new books (and stories) to read.

What do you think?
Is uniqueness dead? Is originality?

Emz Chang

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One response to “Is Originality in YA Dead or Not? Part 2

  1. I think it really depends. Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence write romance-free gritty YA and shatter a lot of cliches out there. I highly recommend both. Joe Aberceombie’s YA series is called The Shattered Sea Trilogy, and Mark Lawrence’s is Ancestor Trilogy (first book coming out in April, you can pre-order or grab an ARC from Netgalley) another one I can recommend, which is old but not known outside of Scandinavia, is Moomin books by Tove Jansson. Not sure if they count as YA but they are children’s literature classic in Finland and popular in Sweden. They are well liked by adults too, Moomins is a huge franchise in Finland with cartoon series, comic books and merchandise stores. There is even a Moomins museum in Finland. I love those stories, they are very different from everything else out there, I wish they were more known in the Anglosphere. You can find the English translations on Amazon.