I know plenty of would-be writers held back by one missing element – originality. They insist originality is what will make their story stand out. Without it, they fear, their work will be just another story lost in the sea of voices in an already-crowded market. Originality is certainly important. You don’t want to have your name dragged through the mud over plagiarism allegations. You don’t want to put your energy into a concept that is already a tired old hat (for example, I once had someone pitch me a story where superheroes would be handled “seriously”. He’d never heard of Vertigo. Or “Watchmen”. Or the “Dark Knight Returns”.) But originality isn’t what makes a story worth telling, nor is it necessarily what makes a story stand out. It’s not about originality – it’s about authenticity.
Ultimately, the most important element of a story is you.
This is harder than it sounds. The only way to find your voice is write more stories, which you cannot do if you are constantly worried about originality. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up in a Catch-22. Ultimately, the only way to break the cycle is to write. This is why many authors actually encourage newbies to emulate their favorite writers, or at least put their own spin on their favorite myths and legends. While the frame work might be familiar, it’s the choices you make and the voice you use to tell the story which ultimately matters.
Stories can share many of the same elements and still be successful and effective in their own right. Both Larry Niven’s seminal “Ring World” and Microsoft’s bestselling Halo game series share the setting of a ring-shaped planet, yet both go in wildly different directions – with Niven’s work based on interstellar exploration and Halo the set-piece of an epic intergalactic war. The setting is the same. The genre is the same. But the voice and direction of the stories are ultimately very different, yet very successful.
Don’t underestimate what you bring to the table. Many times we spend so much energy on a work that we forget that it is the writer, not the story, that actually matters. Without the writer, the work cannot exist – because ultimately no one else can write the story like you will write it. Other writers might use similar settings, similar tropes or even identical settings – but no one can see the world exactly as you see it.