In my years as a roleplayer I have seen far too many people obsess over the idea of being totally original. With this workshop I hope to help people see the light on this matter. What is that light? Simply put, the idea of being completely original in writing is a farce, a sham, an empty dream. Partial originality is a nice idea, but most of the time it also ends up being just an illusion. Come along on this magical journey of cynicism and you'll understand what I mean. Why Being Totally Original Is Nonsense Yes, nonsense. Quiet the voice of the special snowflake in your mind, for it has no place in reality. The problem here is that total originality is synonymous with unique, and being unique is nonsensical. You are not unique, your characters are not unique, your plots are not unique. This is simply a fact, not just me stomping on your happy thoughts. Let's take a look at the definition of unique, shall we? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else.” As much as you may want to think otherwise, you are not, in fact, unique. You are very similar to billions of other humans out there, and your various creative ideas share aspects with the creative ideas of many of those billions of people. If you grew up being told that you are unique and special and unlike anyone else in the world, the fact of the matter is that you have been lied to. You and your characters and your plots are not unique, and that's all there is to it. However, this is a good thing because uniqueness is nonsense, as I've already said repeatedly. Why is it nonsense exactly? It's simple: consider what it would mean to actually be truly unique. To make something 100% unique would mean making something 100% incomprehensible. If you were to create something completely unlike anything that has come before, then there would be no frame of reference for the reader, nothing to relate to, no points of understanding upon which the unfamiliar can be comfortably balanced. Here's something totally unique for example: Garvordox olpharint gorshawed Feshrikun Alcavacky. I can almost guarantee you that nobody else has ever put those letters together in that exact fashion, thus it is unique. Note how it makes zero sense because it is super duper unique and totally original and unlike anything that other people have done before. That's what total originality looks like. A truly unique character or plot or whatever would be incomprehensible garbage, not some super special neat thing that shows off how creative and amazing you are. Seriously, uniqueness and complete originality are pure nonsense. If anything you should be aiming for incomplete originality, although that is not without its own issues. Why Originality is Overrated Now that complete originality AKA uniqueness has been thrown into the trash bin, it's probably worth noting that most people never actually consciously try to go for that sort of originality, so I would not be surprised if many of you reading this were confused by my taking a couple paragraphs to shoot it down. Don't worry, the uniqueness thing will come into play very shortly, just bear with me here. The more common kind of originality is that which I've previously called partial or incomplete originality, but I'll drop the qualifying adjective from now on in order to sound like less of a pretentious jerk. There are a couple kinds of original creations that come into play in roleplaying and other kinds of writing. First there's the kind defined as “created directly and personally by a particular artist; not a copy or imitation”; this is the sort of original that's used in the phrase 'original character,' and it's totally fine, this sort of originality is to be expected as the norm in all non-fandom roleplays. The other meaning of the word original is the one I'm going to be focusing on here: “not dependent on other people's ideas; inventive and unusual.” On first look this might seem to be free of any problems. However, there is indeed an issue that arises with many trying to be original: they stumble into attempting to be unique with parts of their roleplaying. See, the problem is that people tend to interpret the whole originality thing as meaning that if they want to be original then they have to totally eschew tropes and cliches and character archetypes and so on. For some reason a lot of people seem to think that using such things would make their character or plot dependent on another person's ideas, or somehow make it so they're just copying the work of others. There is a lot of value placed on being original, because being unoriginal has a highly negative connotation in creative circles, so people do some weird stuff to strive for originality. Ever seen someone playing an “eccentric” character whose list of quirky flaws and peculiar mannerisms is as long as the rest of the bio put together? Those awkward beasts tend to be the result of a desire to be original. Similar goes for characters with a patently ridiculous number of mental and physical health troubles in a roleplay that's not about people in a hospital/asylum/whatever, and even in those settings a lot of people tend to go way overboard in order to stand out from the characters with just one or two problems. Hell, it even applies to people throwing a single personality quirk onto an otherwise totally stereotypical character: it's often done just to try to be original, not because it's something that makes sense for the character or will add something worthwhile to them. The thing to keep in mind is that originality is overrated. Seriously. It's not as important as it might seem. It's okay to play a simple character that is about as unique as a sack of potatoes. If you want to play a character that's basically just Legolas, you don't need to also make him a kleptomaniac for the sake of originality. Just take the archer with overpowered dexterity idea, alter it as needed to make it fit into the world you're using, and have fun with it. Nothing worthwhile is gained by making a tiny gesture toward originality, and nothing worthwhile is lost by being unoriginal. The supposed importance of originality is built entirely on the idea that it's not cool to do something that someone else has already done before, but that's just more nonsense. There is no inherently greater value in something original than there is in something that embraces tropes and cliches. In fact, outside of writing we tend to view people striving for originality for the sake of originality as being pretentious assholes (hipsters) or annoying little shits (“quirky” kids on the internet), so it's kind of awkward that originality is seen as a high virtue in the arena of roleplaying. I figure it stems from hatred of plagiarism, but the source of this phenomenon is not exactly important. The important thing is that originality is really not that important, so don't worry about it when you're creating things. I think that's enough negativity and naysaying for the moment, so it's time to talk about things that are actually worth paying attention to in your creative writing endeavors. Why Tropes and Cliches Are Great Do you know why tropes and cliches get to the point of being so common that they're called tropes and cliches? Because they work. The reason they got used often enough to become perceptible yet unspoken patterns is because they're easy to grasp (dark color schemes = bad guy and vice versa), or they accomplish plot things rather well (the magical problem solving object can only be found in a certain place so the hero has to go on a quest to get it), or they're just plain fun and entertaining so people like seeing them (the dashing rogue). These common elements act as a sort of cultural and narrative shorthand that make it so people can understand what's going on and get engaged without the need of tons and tons of explanation first. Here's a quick example: A knight in gleaming white armor rides into a town square where a loud argument is taking place. He makes his way through the watching crowd and finds two people in the center arguing: an old man and a young man. When he asks what's going on the old man tells the knight that it's none of his business. The young man butts in and says a girl was just recently kidnapped by evil cultists and she needs to be saved. Old man says that they can't do anything, that there's no way anyone from their little town could fight the cultists or their foul demons and hope to survive, so they should just assume the girl is dead and move on with their lives. Just given that rather brief explanation you can make a lot of guesses and reasonable assumptions about the characters and their likely actions and motivations thanks to the power of tropes and cliches. The knight will almost certainly volunteer to help because he's a knight in shining armor and it's his duty to do good. The young man is clearly a hot-headed youth and will almost certainly tag along, whether openly or by slipping away from his elders who would keep him from harm, odds are high that he is or wants to be in a relationship with the kidnapped girl, and assuming the rescue is successful they'll probably end up together. The old man is the typical super cautious and conservative village leader type, mainly there as a source of early conflict, and he'll continue to be a roadblock as long as he's in the picture; given his dire warnings and lack of action it's possible that he's actually working with the cultists, but that could just be rampant speculation. The cultists are probably performing some kind of dark ritual in which they'll sacrifice the girl to gain power or perhaps summon some powerful demon, because that's just what cultists do with young women. See all the stuff you can infer just by knowing how these sort of things usually go? That's why it's great to use such things to your advantage. You can skip a lot of exposition nonsense just by giving people familiar landmarks to explain what's going on without needing to actually say everything directly. If you want to get tricky with it, you can give people these tropes and then subvert or reverse them to change things up. This is a rather common tactic, and it works just fine because you're giving people familiar ground to start on and then changing things rather than starting off with something different than the norm out of nowhere. Regardless of where your end goal is, starting from points of familiarity is always a good idea, and that's where tropes and cliches come in. Dumping a ton of exposition on people is annoying, so use the easily available shorthand like knights in shining armor and nefarious cultists and obvious romance plots and so on instead of explaining all the minute details of every little thing. It's far easier and less annoying to a reader to say the knight is wearing shining armor than to spend three paragraphs in the guy's head explaining the whole knightly code of honor thing that really needs no explaining. You know that thing people say about how you should show things in your story rather than tell them? Tropes are perfect vehicles for showing rather than telling. Seriously, they're ridiculously versatile and useful. There's a strong argument to be made that there is such a thing as over-reliance on tropes and overuse of cliches, but that is in no way an argument against their use. You could also say there's such a thing as overuse, of, commas, but that's not a good reason to never use them. Moderate your use of them and only go out of your way to put your own spins on things when it actually makes sense or fits in with the world/plot/character. Making a knight in shining armor a secret racist is pointless unless he's actually going to encounter some other race and have to deal with them and struggled with his prejudice, for example. If you make him a racist just to be able to point at it and say "see, look, he has a flaw, he's not just a typical knight in shining armor" then you're being a shitty writer and roleplayer, to be perfectly blunt about it. Throwing in new things to change the formula derived from tropes and cliches purely for the sake of trying to be different is the laziest way of trying to make your creations interesting enough to stand out from the crowd. If you can't find a more natural and realistic way to tweak things, for example by making the knight cruel to animals because he was attacked by a dog as a kid and show that by way of his poor treatment of his horse and other animals he encounters, then you're better off sticking to the formula and just using that as is. I've focused on characters a lot through this workshop because they seem to me to be the biggest offender in this area, but it can apply to settings and plots just as well. You don't need to cram a dozen strange new races into a fantasy world to make it super neat and original, just stick with the Tolkien races and you'll be fine; you don't need to try to plot out some elaborate scheme full of twists and turns in order to keep people on their toes and make sure they don't expect whatever is coming next, just say "oh no there's an evil guy and you need the magical object over there to defeat him!" and it'll be plenty good enough to work with. There'll be plenty of time and space later on to add in changes and tweaks to veer things off of the obvious path, no need to start with the crazy and potentially alienate readers/players from the get go. In Summary Tropes and cliches are the foundation of any good story, world, or character. Ignoring this fact and striving to be unique will make your creations garbage of one kind or another, but garbage all the same. Embracing this fact and just rolling with the tropes will make your creations reasonable and workable in damn near every way, but they will perhaps feel a bit boring. Understanding this fact, making use the tropes, and then building on that foundation is how you can make something great. All of the greatest works of fiction were built upon these humble foundations of tropes that have existed for long centuries of storytelling. Lord of the Rings is the story of a quest to take down the evil overlord, starring such characters as the reluctant hero, the hero's faithful companion, the secret royalty hero, the burly warrior, and the graceful archer. Star Wars (the original trilogy) is the story of plucky rebels fighting the evil empire, starring such characters as the lovable hero, the dashing rogue, the badass princess, and the wise old mentor(s). Harry Potter is the coming of age story of the chosen hero working to take down the evil overlord, starring such characters as the courageous hero, the goofy but loyal sidekick, the smart one, the gentle giant, and the wise old mentor. For all three of those tales that I have reduced to their foundations, a large reason why they're so widely loved is that they used their tropes wisely to pull the audience in and then built on them in cool ways. 'Trope' and 'cliche' are not naughty four letter words; they are tools. Use them as such rather than avoiding them and they'll improve your creations immensely.