This is not meant as a discouraging article, though some may read it and be exactly that, discouraged. Don’t be. This is simply the truth as I see it. As there is no absolute truth outside of perhaps mathematics, you can choose not to believe this. Of course, you would be wrong, because, though it may not be true in the concrete sense of mathematics, it is true. So you have been told.
So what is this amazing truth that I have to share? It is something that all long time writers know or come to realise. Jaded writers definitely know it and wise scribes always knew it. So here it is: there are no original stories or ideas. That’s all.
My apologies to those who wasted thirty seconds reading something they already knew, smirking or nodding, realising that this is something that they have read or discussed or even written about before themselves. This is not for you. If however, you are bristling with mild indignation as you read this, thinking of the brilliant script/book/stage play/teleplay you’re writing and how different and original it is, it’s not. Sorry.
But my idea has genius alien elephants, from another dimension, turning up in medieval times, hellbent on taking over the Earth! First, that’s a terrible idea and second, blending several other ideas together does not make it original. Time travel and alien invasion? Please! Got a story about a female goat herder who goes to the city to sell milk and meets the love of her life, only to find it’s a woman? Nope. Not original. Nowhere near.
So what’s the point of being a writer? If all the stories have been told, what is the point of, in essence, doing rewrites? If there is nothing original, why fashion a new story? Still, there are those who insist on their originality, going to great pains to try and avoid outside influences; don’t watch television, don’t read newspapers, avoids social media, so their ideas must be original. Afraid not.
Every good writer devours outside influences, news, television, social media and just the everyday world. It’s what helps spark creativity. So what to write, what to write? Frankly, whatever you feel like. The search for a new, completely original, story may be fruitless, but that is not to say it is completely pointless. Well, perhaps the original bit is. Covered that already. But the approach to a story, the unique perspective, is what a writer brings to a story. The story may not be original or new, but voices should be. That is the writer’s originality, the newness that they seek to bring.
The writer’s job is not to, in my opinion, necessarily just tell a story in a new and surprising way. That is a trick, something that you can use, the literary equivalent of smoke and mirrors. What a good writer should be doing is trying to elicit emotion, get one to feel a certain way.
Even though we remember what we see and hear, it is not always correctly recalled. Lines are misquoted – “play it again Sam” was never said in by Bogart’s character in Casablanca; we do not see the ear get cut off in Reservoir Dogs. What we do not forget or recall incorrectly, is how we felt. We get excited for films or television that has impressed or transported us before. Emotion is what brings us back week after week to a compelling television serial. You care about the characters, you care about their story, you want to know how their lives turn out. We care about the decisions they make and the options they do or do not take. Emotion is what makes a story compelling, repellent or just…meh.
An original take or angle is good, even interesting, to begin with, but it’s the feels we come for. Do not strive to be new and original. Make us feel.