Start writing fiction: characters and stories
Start writing fiction: characters and stories

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2.2.5 How can I be original?

Figure 8

The more you read, the more you will learn about the various techniques of portraying characters. But on occasions an anxiety can arise from your reading: how can I possibly be original?


Originality for its own sake often results in ‘false’ writing: real people are seldom either so self-conscious or remarkable that they think and speak in entirely new ways. On the other hand, attempting to convey or describe something as accurately as possible will very often result in striking or fresh-sounding expressions.

Observing precisely how something appears to you, or how it might appear in the eyes of one of your characters, will often result in you writing something original. How? Because every person observes or perceives things – the world, themselves – in a different way.

Does it matter if you don’t know many interesting words?

The language you already know and use is vital: it’s a thumbprint of who you are. All the words you already know are potentially interesting, if used well, and all have interesting origins. Where they come from can say a lot about what they mean. Use a good dictionary so that you can find out where ‘ordinary’ words come from, and see what other meanings they might have.

  • Get into the habit of looking through your dictionary whenever you can, noting in your journal words you like and word-derivations that are interesting to you.
  • Think about words you particularly like and why. Keep a note of them, where they derive from, and why you like them. They needn’t be ‘exotic’ words, but perhaps ones you liked because you heard them used in a surprising context.
  • Be wary of using large, Latinate or multi-syllabic words gratuitously. Make sure that such words earn their place in your story. If in doubt, use the shorter, more commonly used word.
  • Be wary of using hackneyed terms or phrases, clichés and the types of phrases that are too familiar.
  • Start to keep a note of words you hear in conversation, and in everyday life: the phrases, words and speech patterns people use.

Plain language, deeply understood, is ample to convey the most sophisticated and complex meanings. Often ‘ordinary’ words are made vivid and memorable by appearing in unexpected places, or by being used in surprising ways.

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