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Imitation. The Sincerest Form of Flattery? Or Lack of Imagination?

[FONT=&amp] It's third trimester and I have my students working on an informative essay. This is not new to them. We've done them before, and my 8th graders, who had me last year, did several essays for me as well.[/FONT]

[FONT=&amp]7th grade is writing about their favorite animal, and 8th grade is focusing on their dream destination. Easy topics? I thought so! I even helped them narrow the topics down to manageable main ideas with step-by-step directions, including an example essay I am writing right along with them.
[FONT=&amp]My essay is about adding insects to our lunch menu. No, they're not on board with the idea yet, but I am having fun watching them squirm! My "hook," my first sentence is, "Would you like a side of fried worms with that?" They loved it! BUT – I did show them three other topic or focus sentences I could have used. One was another question, one was a statement, and one was an imperative.
[FONT=&amp]We talked about why one might be better than the others, and they all agreed on my choice. Great! Right on track.[/FONT]
[FONT=&amp]So, we reviewed what I expect in an introductory paragraph and I showed them how I searched for information to support my main idea. I also had them help me create a thesis statement for my essay. We ended up with, “Adding insects to the menu is a realistic idea that could feed many and save money.” So far so good!

Then NINETEEN students took turns showing me their first sentence for approval and I got NINETEEN questions similar to this –
[FONT=&amp]“Would you like a tiger for a pet?”
“Would you like to have a shark?”
“Would you like to go to China?”
“Would you like to live in a volcano?”
[FONT=&amp]Do you see where I am going with this? DOUBLE UG! This is how every single one of their papers started out! I honestly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Or stare at all of them blankly.

I explained to them that I wanted to “see them” on their paper. Not me. I got the trademark middle school blank stare. I went back to my examples of other topic sentences I could have used. Blank stares.[/FONT]

[FONT=&amp]So I made it easy on them, I simply said no one could use “Would you like…” to start their essay.
Yep. Easy. We needed a whole other class period for them to come up with another topic sentence. It was brutal.
[FONT=&amp]So this got me to thinking about writing in general. We have genres because we have similar plots that introduce similar subject matter that provides us with enough similar characteristics to be categorized; fantasy, science fiction, drama, comedy, horror, mystery, and any combination thereof.
[FONT=&amp]So it’s to be expected that multiple authors could use similar plots to develop their unique twist on an old story. Kinda like the recent onslaught of 80’s movies remakes. Well-made remakes can bring back in the original 80’s fans, along with the current generation. Win win. But when does a story-line get old? When does it get too repetitive and sound too much like the next one on the shelf?
My current “active” story has a familiar plot but hopefully enough of my personal spin on it to make it a worthwhile read. But sometimes I wonder if it is me coming through the words, or just a facsimile of my favorite authors. Although I have read many author bios and most, if not all of them, credit their love of writing on other authors, and openly admit to being greatly influenced by them, I still worry that I am nothing more than an echo of somebody else’s style. Hopefully not.

How do you know it’s you on the paper?

From my personal blog www.amarysplace.com


In school I think a lot of kids feel there isn't a lot of room for them to be creative. It's just this slave-driving "do what you're asked to do, don't ask questions unless they're the right questions" environment, day in and day out. I know of times where either I, or other kids, may have even been ridiculed for trying to do something their own way. It's always rules, rules, rules, and structure, structure, structure. Everybody has to do the same things, meet the same criteria, and so on. If you're going to take the cookie cutter approach, don't be surprised when 99% of the cookies look like "stars".

Or, for example, I remember in late elementary school we'd receive writing prompts, and were instructed by several teachers over the years to not pick the "Talk about the topic in your own way" approach / option. So what do kids do?

Carbon-copy their teachers. Not only is it an easy and lazy way out, but it's also a sure-fire way of meeting the requirements.


Anyway, where inspiration ends and "echoing" begins is a tough question. I mean, I thought that the new Star Wars movie was a disgusting, unoriginal copy of the original films. I understand there's a new underlying storyline, characters, amazing special effects, etc. But I couldn't get over the fact that they basically blew up the Death Star for the third freaking time.

See, that isn't taking inspiration from something. They simply took the whole conflict of the old movies and re-did it, changing maybe one or two variables. "Ohhh, instead of a Death Star it's a planet that they turned into a Death Star." Okay, so? Changing two small aspects or details doesn't cut it, just like copying and pasting an essay and then using a thesaurus to change words can still be plagiarism.

Your voice is what makes your work you. There will always be genres because they spawn from the basic human emotions. Think of them as starting points in a vast, epic planet. You're an explorer. Will you follow a path already cleared for you? How far? Or will you just take your machete and start hacking your way through; sure, you may stumble a bit, or have to trace your steps backwards, or get lost. But eventually you will find your way. Maybe you'll even cross paths with some of the great authors of old, but only briefly, before continuing on in your own direction.

But you see, a lot of people are afraid to do that, because it's lonely making your own way. It's unpopular. And a lot of publishers want what will sell, not take a risk with what might transcend. Typically I think this is why great writers and artists and so on die poor and alone, and then after their death at some point their work becomes recognized and famous. Take Lovecraft or Poe, for instance.

Hopefully that metaphor made sense.

I mean really, it's why we don't live forever, and wouldn't want to. There isn't enough time for us to do everything and anything we want, to read everything or watch everything and remember it all. If there was, we'd quickly become very bored, jaded souls.

In short, my best answer would be creativity. Do the unexpected. Be weird. Be yourself. Be different. But not for the contrived sake of being hipster, but because you're truly unique.

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