Midnight: I’ve just returned from a screening of ‘The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey’.
The late show was the only screening I could get into – all the other sessions were sold out. No spoilers, but let’s just say that I’m impatiently holding out for Part 2, ‘The Desolation Of Smaug’.
To say that Peter Jackson has done it again would be the understatement of the century. The movie has taken $124 million worldwide at the box office on day 1, breaking all previous records. The one movie that rules them all.
So what, you might ask, is this ‘secret’ that authors need to know? How did this Tolkien story spawn yet another blockbuster?
The truth is that when professor J.R.R. Tolkien was writing his tales, he didn’t just chase a trend, but wrote his unique Middle Earth stories based on his own interests. He went on a voyage of discovery into what he loved, creating an entire imaginary world, and populating it with an astonishing array of characters such as Gandalf, Gollum and Bilbo Baggins. He even invented an Elvish language.
How on earth did he do this? By delving into the mysteries of his deepest interests and fascinations – writing from the heart, and therein lies the secret:
Tolkien had always been intrigued by traditional tales, especially about dragons, and his commitment to what he loved has spawned a vast industry – even though his success came as a complete surprise to him. He felt that the things he wrote were not really life changing at all, but simply “imaginings from my head”.
But it didn’t come easily. He struggled to finish his epic novels and it took him 7 years to write The Hobbit, while continuing to teach at Pembroke College, Oxford. But he managed it, largely because his deep interest in the subject sustained him through difficult periods.
How To Find Your Originality As A Writer
As writers, what we can learn from Tolkien is that we must draw from our deepest wells. These are the interests that we’d continue to pursue and learn about even if we weren’t writing about them.
I’ll admit that it’s a delicate balance: While it’s vital to avoid chasing a popular fad, there also needs to be a market for our stories. That much is common sense, and in Tolkien’s case he wasn’t at all sure that anyone would like his work.
Quoting him regarding ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ …
…I certainly hope to leave behind me the whole thing revised and in final form, (LOTR) for the world to throw into the waste-paper basket. All books come there in the end, in this world, anyway…”
There’s also no question that an original idea is a ‘lighthouse’ when it comes to marketing. It stands out amongst the sputtering lamplights of imitators. This enables it to ignite the promotional wave that actually sells books: Word-of-Mouth recommendation.
However, it’s equally true that some writers still need to imitate or ‘pay homage to’ other authors as a necessary step to discovering their own style. Furthermore, I’m not saying you must write to the level of Tolkien. Many writers are more than happy to ‘be published’ and earn enough to quit their day job. What I am saying is that to have any real chance of success, writers need to avoid being seduced by the latest fiction fad, because if it’s already everywhere you look, it’s probably over.
“But what about Romantic Fiction – surely it doesn’t apply to that?”
You may wonder, for example, how this crucial principle of originality applies to the largest genre of all, the big ‘R’ – Romantic Fiction. Whilst this is a world far from Tolkien’s Middle Earth, make no mistake – originality is just as important here too.
Look no further than Nora Roberts. She dropped a bombshell on the genre by dumping the submissive styling of Mills and Boone heroines, and created stories with far stronger, fiestier, more self reliant types. Yet, the books are just as ‘Romantic’ as ever.
As a result of this original approach, there are more than 400 million of her novels in print, and she earns over $60 million a year.
The bottom line is to look in the mirror and ask yourself this question: “Am I a creator or an imitator?” So trust your muse, have faith and reach into the bell jars and the high towers of your imagination.
You’ll find your originality by delving deeply into the things you love.
Have you seen ‘The Hobbit’ movie? Did you like it or hate it? Will you visit Middle Earth? Do leave a comment.
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