Last night, my husband and I threw our annual February beach party. It’s our tradition to invite a large number of our friends to our house, produce a stunning quantity of food, serve insane amounts of alcohol, and thumb our collective noses at winter. Sometimes Mother Nature takes offense at this nose thumbing and dumps snow on us but apparently she was satisfied with the foot of snow she dumped on us two years ago and yesterday was mild and precipitation free.
Lying in bed at 3:30 am earlier today, exhausted but struggling to calm the party energy so I could steal a few hours of sleep, I started thinking about something my husband had said. He mentioned, and it was not the first time he had said something like this, that the party’s dynamics, the ebb and flow of the conversations and the energy and interactions of the participants differed from past parties.
Now, each beach party is essentially the same. We invite friends, many of whom return year after year. We overflow with food and drink. People attend in beach costumes or dress related to aquatic themes and we provide prizes for the best costumes (defined as whatever strikes the fancy of this year’s judge, who by convention is last year’s winner). Videos of marine life play on my television with the sound muted to avoid interfering with the music and conversation.
You may well wonder what my silly party habits have to do with writing speculative fiction.
We’ve been hosting this party for nineteen years. One would expect it to be stale and boring and yet every time I’m surprised by how fresh it feels. Partly this results from the personality of the attendees. No matter how many people return year to year, the mix of people is always slightly different, sparking different groups of people conversing and new topics of conversation. Our repeat guests often throw themselves into having a good time. New attendees can be slightly bemused by the proceedings but adapt quickly. I always try to add new elements, an appetizer I’ve discovered during the year or some new rearrangement of the house. Perhaps most importantly, each new year we host, my husband and I have changed. We have made new friends, lost some, experienced new happenings, and changed our perspectives on life.
One issue that has bothered me in my writing is the concept of originality. No matter how often I’ve been assured that all plots are riffs on basic themes and storylines (boy meets girl, epic quest, etc.), I can’t shake the lingering uncertainty that any plot I produce is unoriginal and therefore boring and worthless and should be discarded. Multiple people have tried to break me of this belief but it persists and is a hindering nag lurking in my head as I write.
While falling asleep this morning, I began to think of my writing as my Beach Party. I’m finally internalizing that what I’m thinking of as originality doesn’t stem from the initial idea but from the interaction of the party-goers or characters with the setting that the host or author provides, with a side element of the host’s practice in party preparation or the author’s ability to use the elements of the writer’s toolbox and the tricks of the writing trade. Originality is a conglomeration and until I stop being balked by dislike of my “unoriginal” idea, I won’t be able to produce anything original.
If you examine the parrot in the picture carefully, you will notice that it has paper fangs. About three years ago, unknown to me one of the artistically inclined adults started hanging out with two young girls who were looking for something to do. As a lark, they went around the house putting fangs on many of my decorations. Being the observant soul I am, it took me until the next day to notice them. I decided to leave the fangs in place and for the past few years, fanged decorations have overlooked the beach party reminding me every time I look at them both of those who created them and also how stories take on a life of their own.