Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Soooo Unoriginal!

It's been said (by more knowledgeable people than me) that there are no original stories. Plot lines have been recycled since the beginning. (Think Adam and Eve...well, maybe they were original.) So try as we might, there's not anything we can come up with that hasn't been done.

Don't let that discourage you, however. This is actually a good thing in many ways. For instance, people instinctively recognize these familiar lines and find comfort in them. That's why you might gravitate to mystery, or romance, or something that has a pattern that speaks to who you are. You're a product of your own experience, and that's why everyone of us comes to a story bringing a different interpretation to the events.

That can also be a problem as well. For instance, the other day I gave what I had of a current WIP to a writer friend to look at. It wasn't very much, about 40 pages. She came back with some wonderful suggestions that I'm excited to implement. She did say, however, that the initial scene where the hero and heroine meet reminded her STRONGLY of another novel. A best selling novel. One that everyone knows.

I was horrified. She was quick to say that she didn't think I'd set out to rip off this other story, but I might want to rethink that first meeting. As in "better change it".

I got me thinking, though. I could give you a basic plot line, say "Boy meets girl, boy and girl get together, boy loses girl, boy finds girl again". And each one of us would come to it with a different take. We'd have as many different stories as there are people. But there are certain shall we say, conventions, that we would use. There would have to be a first meeting. There are only so many places people can meet. They have to meet somewhere, or there would be no story.

So my question is this...If a popular story has some memorable scene or setting, can up and coming writers use those same conventions, or are they now the permanent property of the famous one? Can anyone else but Stephen King use a small town in Maine? Or have your boy and girl meet in a classroom at school? Or be invited into a magical world you never knew existed? I don't know that there is a definitive answer, but it's worth thinking about.

What are your "thinkings"?


  1. This kind of reminds me of Idol when contestants have to sing some classic - and they put their own twist on it. If if doesn't work, the judges say - 'dude -you can't mess with a classic' but if it does work-and they bring the house down with their 'mad vocals' the judges say, 'awesome job-you made it your own!'

  2. Tamara's right--it can go both ways. I started a book that smacked of Twilight so heavily it soured the rest of the series for me. Other times subtle similarities increase the enjoyment I have of a book because it ignites emotions that carry over from another book I've enjoyed. For me, I think it is more about the degree of allusion.

  3. I think you can use similar scenes, but don't get carried away and use the same storyline that has been done a million times. It's hard to think of something different, but it can be done. Put your own twist on it, make your character original and different and your story will be great. :)

  4. I think few authors attempt to copy other authors, but just like in your case, it often happens by accident.

    I would absolutely steer clear of rewording scenes you've read. But if you write something you love and 2 years later pick up an earlier book that sounds a lot like yours, oh well. That's life.

  5. There are a lot of things about my current WIP that I've realized...maybe too late....that ring similar to some best sellers. So, oops.

  6. Great post, and excellent question. Once I got worried because in the midst of plot creation, I ran across a description of a plot with some similarities to mine. Oh no! But a friend pointed out that my execution of the story would be different. He was right, and I stopped worrying and wrote the book. Inevitably, different books will have some similarities.

    I do think it's trickier if our plot idea is similar to a wildly bestselling novel. For instance, if I want to write a book about an orphaned boy wizard, I'd have to be VERY careful to give it a fresh, original feel.



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