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Observation on Originality

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"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 untested, 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 Once Original, Now Common, and why a bad work with a Dancing Bear might still be popular and ground-breaking. Please remember that Tropes Are Tools without inherent morality.

This trope sometimes brings an unexpected payoff; namely, the popularity of foreign media in many markets. Something well-worn and Strictly Formula in one context can seem 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 at least in part because such works have the polished production of a long-established genre but the plot and character beats are still novel.

Alternative Title(s): Twains Observation On Originality