Observation On Originality

aka: Twains Observation On Originality
"Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good."
Unknown, commonly attributed to Samuel Johnson.

Some works are Strictly Formula: you've seen a hundred movies (or novels, or video games) just like it. But all that practice has paid off. Every scene is tight, every heartstring is pulled, every plot line pays off at just the right moment, and nothing stands between you and a triumphant emotional experience (except, of course, the feeling that you've seen it all before).

Other works try for originality and much is gained. But something is also lost. The new bits, being new, are also a bit buggy. Characters, scenes, plot points, and dialogue go too far, don't go far enough, or go off in unexpected directions. Perhaps the unfamiliar is pushed a little too far and becomes alienating. At any rate, you walk away wondering just what you saw and how you were supposed to react to it.

Which brings us to the lesson of this page: If you seek novelty, do not expect a polished production. If you seek a polished production, do not expect novelty.

This observation is a companion to Sturgeon's Law, the driving force behind Capcom Sequel Stagnation, the reason Seinfeld Is Unfunny, and a recognition of the tradeoffs between Tropes are Not Bad and Tropes are Not Good.

This trope brings an unexpected payoff; namely, the popularity of foreign media in many markets. Something highly-polished and Strictly Formula in one context is new and original when exported to an audience not familiar with its conventions. For example, Anime and, to a lesser extent, Bollywood are popular in America partly because such works have the well-worn expertise of an established genre but the plot and character beats are novel.

Alternative Title(s):

Twains Observation On Originality