When I first saw this picture I giggled gently to myself and couldn’t resist finding a blog post to slot it into.
It got me thinking about whether there is any such thing as a new idea any more. Is every story now written merely a variation on an already well trodden theme?
O.K. so you’ve changed the location, the girl is now spunky rather than fainting helplessly into the strong arms of the masculine hero, your protagonist and antagonist are battling their wits against one another for the computer hack of all time rather than stealing hard copies of documents from the central spying organisation but is anything in your novel truly original? Does it matter if it is original?
I think the second question is probably the more interesting one to approach and here’s why. We could argue back and forth for a month of Sundays about whether my novel or yours is truly original or merely stands on the shoulders of great authors (giants) who have come before us. However, I’m not sure how productive and helpful that discussion is? What does that discussion or any conclusion that comes from it actually achieve for established and new writers? What does it achieve in providing engaging novels for readers?
So does it really matter if our stories are original? I’m not talking about fan Fiction that almost wholly relies on the concept created by another writer or plagiarism which in layman’s terms is just stealing. If Twilight is an extension of the Peter Pan idea, is Castaway simply a variation of Robinson Crusoe or Lord of the Flies? Arguably these examples are simply variations on a theme – how do humans survive and thrive when cut off from the society and culture they originate from – but they tell two very different stories even when the themes and ideas underlying the plots converge.
If you were to write a blurb of Robinson Crusoe and Lord of the Flies, how different would that blurb be? To my mind there would be no strong probability that if you read both out to the ordinary man on the street he would think that it was for the same book. But does it matter? Well I think it does, because so often, in certain genres anyway, you find that the themes, plots, imagery and characters are so alike as to be easily interchanable between an author’s books and books within that genre. The romance novel so often has a tanned, muscley hero and a heroine beautiful and scheming. The boy meets the girl, some inevitable (and normally univentive) conflict arisese that prevents them being together, but in the end the boy always gets the girl and has a happy ending. This is an oversimplification of course, but the scenery, the characters, setting and ideas undeneath are cardboard cutouts one plot for the next and you could simply insert the name of your heroine and hero from one novel to the next and not feel that the blurb from one novel is so far removed from the blurb of the next. Now don’t think me unfair, Fantasy and Science Fiction the two genres that I write the most frequently within are also guilty of broadly relying on such similar world building and character types that you can’t help but despair knowing the next book you pick up in that genre will fulfil your expectations but not much else.
There are exceptions of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. So many authors however forget that to be original so your novel is distinguishable from others in the genre and for it to stand the test of time even if it does stand on the broad concepts and ideas of great authors that have gone before, it must either have something unique to say or be an original variation on a well traversed theme. So what added value does your novel bring to the reading public? If it doesn’t bring some original content, concept or variation to the all ready bulging bookshelves in the history of literature, then what are you offering readers that hasn’t been offered to them before?
Be bold, be innovative and be original. You may be writing a variation on a theme, but if you add value through the uniqueness of your writing, plot, characterisation and theme perhaps in 300 years time you too will be remembered as a great author.