The Originality Myth & The Importance of Story Scaffolding

Emma Skipper
May 15, 2019 · 5 min read
Who needs a black sheep anyway?

Now I’m going to start by saying this title is wholly unoriginal.

In fact I picked it up in conversation at the pub a few weeks ago with a stranger (if it was you please let me know and I’ll credit you). We were talking about my recent love affair with writing. Specifically about how I got the confidence to actually start my current novel in the first place. In fact, it’s something I get asked a lot… although not normally by strangers.

Let me let you into a secret.

The only, ONLY reason I plucked up the courage to finally put pen to paper and release my story into the ether was because I realised that there was absolutely zero point in being completely original. I could, essentially, copy.

Now bear with me on this as I’m someone that, due to such a significant fear of getting accused of plagiarism at Uni, had over fifteen A4 pages of sources in my dissertation. I’m sure somewhere along the line I sourced a Nature research article for “and so the glacier moved”.

No, the reason I make so bold a claim is because in the deepest despair and fear of having a great story but no talent to tell it, I came across Joseph Campbell’s seminal book; A Hero With A Thousand Faces.

It all started with a hunch.

A hunch that was born from my childhood experiences of my Mother retelling the great myths and fantasies she loved so much. From secret gardens and golden eggs to serpents encircling the earth and cyclops prowling shorelines; I grew up with great tales of imaginary lands and the great heroes and nemeses that filled them. As I child I gobbled these up ferociously. I read and read until I’d convinced myself wholeheartedly that there were wood-elves that lived in the forest next to my house — I’d greet them every morning (still do sometimes). As an adult however, I began gobbling these stories back up for inspiration. Then it hit me. The underlying structures of my favourite tales’ narratives were inherently the same. I started researching and, low and behold, I came across Campbell’s theory.

A Hero With Thousand Faces details Campbell’s work comparing mythological structures over the last few centuries. His theory of The Hero’s Journey monomyth must be one of the most widely used story structures in fantasy and sci-fi. George Lucas used it for Star Wars, you can see it peppered through Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Watership Down, The Matrix… the Hollywood produce Christopher Vogler even wrote his own book based on a memo about The Hero’s Journey that he sent to Disney (the book’s called Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers FYI). My discovery was a revelation and I’m sure as a budding author I’m not alone in the solace and confidence it brought me in to finally get started.

However as I read the first few chapters it dawned on me that this monomyth had far wider applications than mere fantasy writing. It had a place at the table for agency pitches, insight reports and innovation pipelines — my daily bread and butter. The hero of the journey and their companions along the way could, quite literally, be anybody and anything.

Let’s paint a picture…

Agency pitch.

The client’s the hero. The known world is the reason they came to you in the first place — their last agency royally messed up and are currently embroiled in a lawsuit for damages. They need help. You’re the Guardian, so get your wands out team as you’re going to perform some serious desk research and creative copywriting magic to take them through the perils of their unknown consumer landscape. There’s probably a revelation at some point. It will be like a giant duck floating down the Thames for a PR stunt, but BOY is it going to raise awareness and bring them back to reality thinking you are their hot ticket to profit.

Innovation pipeline.

You’ve got a heroic client again but their household penetration is DISMAL and they need serious help developing breakthrough ideas. And there you are; a golden lion waiting at the altar of the unknown about to take them on a journey of discovery as they talk to consumers at the edges of culture. The revelation of the hacks these consumers are adopting might even go mainstream, you say. Listen to them, they’re the trailblazers. They will educate you on the opportunities that you’ll be able to take back to the real world and make the hot topic of mainstream culture with 5 years of R&D. And it works.

Anyway, you get the gist.

I’d like to make a point here that this isn’t pure play manipulation. This is operating under the premise that great stories, told in the right way to the right person, can affect great change.

Your skills as a writer, director, musician, agency director or innovation consultant are nothing if you cannot empathise with your audience’s needs and suspend their disbelief enough that they believe you can do what you say you can do.

And this is where the originality comes in.

I think of these structures like scaffolding. They provide the structure upon which you can be the architect of your choosing. And you can be this with full creative license and confidence; knowing that this bizarre ‘collective unconscious’* of humans’ delight in the hero and their journey provides the perfect framework from which to build.

So here I go off into the unknown again. By day constructing innovation pipelines and, by night, moonlighting as a mother of dragons… just not as you know her (my scaffolding’s slightly different to old Mr Martin.)

If you’re into all this here’s a few great places to start into your own journey into the unknown:

*FYI my mention of ‘collective unconscious’ is worth a read… it was formed from Carl Jung’s Dream Theories where he is known to have said “I would not assert the law behind them [telepathy] is “supernatural”, but merely something which we cannot get at yet with our present knowledge.” (1974, p. 48).

ps. I love everything about that statement.

Making Make Believe

Great stories can change the world. Join us as we dive into the world of human behaviour and storytelling.

Emma Skipper

Written by

Colliding worlds as Network Lead @SenseWorldwide’s Innovation Studio. #MakingMakeBelieve as I explore how great stories can change the world.

Making Make Believe

Great stories can change the world. Join us as we dive into the world of human behaviour and storytelling.

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