Friday, December 17, 2010

Originality in Literature and Art

Treasure: the person C S Lewis
"Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it." --C. S. Lewis

 "You don't have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body." --C. S. Lewis

The quote themes links with Lewis's views expressed elsewhere that emphasize the art of living fully, without "cleverness," and that every human we meet, whether we like them or not, is a living soul. In the nonfiction works of Clive Staples Lewis, these are among the many expressions and concepts that remain with me. I see them linked in this way: Man, male and female, is an original and the highest concept of creation, a living soul made by God. What "originality" and life we have as humans is derived from the Origin of all things. (Great discoveries, we know from biographies, seem to have come unexpectedly through the living seeker--scientist, artist, inventor, e.g..-- in an inexplicable moment of "Aha!"clarity or understanding.)

Especially for writers, the soul of the writer inserts itself, if only between the lines. It happens. In my opinion, that is true for fiction, as well, where being "original" is expected. But originality must be explained like this: think of how many stories are variations on different themes familiar for ages. Literally. What ensures originality from a skilled writer is that the person behind the writing is "an original"--a unique, individual human soul.

As far as style is concerned, have you ever tried to write what look like simple openings of well-known American authors, such as Hemingway, only to find how hard their simplicity was to do well and...well, originally?

Getting back to C. S. Lewis's quotes about the soul or souls...think of how many books sell because they mention soul in the title? Chicken Soup for the Soul series is an easy example. Before that, and maybe the inspiration for the Chicken Soup writers, were "soul food" and "soul music."

Joining originality and meaning, God put into Man, male and female, something meant to last--a soul. I think there might be not so much weirdness to suggest a soul DNA, for each soul, like each person, is similar to others and yet uniquely able to relate to God...or to be ignored or starved. Meanings in all of this are worth  exploring, for the soul's value is suggested in sayings like "He sold (or nearly sold) his soul for that deal," very like the words, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"

And there's Faust, a frightening, dynamic soul story if ever there was one, and inspiring its own variations by other authors. 

How to give originality to themes like soul, heart, love, life, meaning, risk, obsession, mystery....? There are endless questions for the writer to choose, puzzle over, or get writer's block from. Yet it keeps getting done. 
To ease the mind about being "original" there is the advice to just write. Begin to fill a page on a theme you've already thought through countless times. Write it your own way, in your own style, and with its own needed balance from your heart, life, mind... while, as C S Lewis said, telling the truth. Truth runs through the best writing, including fiction.


CS Lewis quotes: Source
Updated/revised from Advent to year-round: 6/11/12 
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