Orson Scott Card and Tradition by Jake Scholl
This is an article submitted by a guest writer (Jake Scholl) you can read more of his writing on his blog at: Goblins, Swords, Elves, Oh my!
When I last drove my wheelchair into Borders at the Boise Mall, I immediately went to the Sci-fi & Fantasy aisle. I quickly scanned my eyes across the titles. I picked up a few, flipped through them, and read the backs. There was one thing I noticed. 50% of them reminded me of Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. They just weren't original enough.
They were clones!!!
Well, not complete clones (no magic rings and no hobbits) but nonetheless I could find characters that were the same but having a different guise. I thought they were complete mimicries until I read an article by author Orson Scott Card (author of the sci-fi cult classic Ender's Game) on his website. This is part of his opinion he wrote in the article:
"If the only science fiction novel you have read is Starship Troopers and then you read Ender's Game, you're going to go ape over the fact that there are insectoid aliens, etc. Card is a thief! But then when you realize (1) Card has never read Starship Troopers and (2) there was a long history of sci-fi stories about combat with insectoid aliens that both Heinlein and Card borrowed from, you relax a little. We weren't being "derivative," we were "working within a tradition."
I was (and still am) convinced that Card was right. Why? Here's an example. Christopher Paolini, author of the bestselling Eragon series ,was accused by many critics for mimicking Lord of the Rings , Star Wars , and Anne McCaffery's Dragon Riders of Pern series. I read Eragon for the first time in 5th grade. Did I like it? Heck, yes! Why? It combined those three elements of the series I listed, and some new ideas.
It may have had an old mentor, an evil "dark lord", and a chosen one, but it also has themes of communism, and rebellion against dictatorships. Also the dwarves aren't grumpy as usual, no goblins, and the elves are vegetarians. Even in the third book it has themes of religion!
So if you write, I wouldn't be nervous about using old archetypes in certain fiction genres. But, add your own ideas also to avoid plagiarism. But here's another word of wisdom from Card:
"Still, when you work within a genre utterly dominated - arguably created - by one towering writer, you're going to run the risk of being called "derivative."
So even if your writing is called "derivative", remember that you are " working within a tradition. "
On Plagiarism, Borrowing, Resemblance, and Influence
By Orson Scott Card