One of the greatest challenges that writers face is coming up with new and fresh ideas for stories. It is a struggle to search for something revolutionary to introduce to the world. When that new idea is found it is so exciting that we rush to our writing desks and work to capture it before it slips away.
The thing is, there aren’t many new ideas out there. Once time is spent developing a brilliant new idea elements of it start showing up everywhere. It’s like when buying a new car, before it seemed there weren’t many on the road. After going through the effort of getting one then suddenly they seem to be everywhere. Now what? That new idea is spoiled. Obviously if can’t be used if so many others have come up with similar ideas. It would be cheating, wouldn’t it?
No, it wouldn’t. Just like every car is unique to its owner even though the make and model is the same, every writer has a unique take on how they develop an idea.
Consider James Cameron’s smash hit Avatar. It is visually stunning and has strong emotional and action packed climaxes. Every detail has been carefully thought through from the anatomy of the local flora and fauna to the cultural hierarchy and traditions of the Navi. However the ideas behind the story are not new. Pocahontas, Ferngully, and many others carry the same basic story. Man travels to foreign locale, becomes accepted by one of the indigenous people, falls in love, is shunned by both his people and the indigenous people, and must prove himself to both to keep his love.
Even though Avatar, Pocahontas, and Ferngully all carry a very similar story they are very different movies. They each have a different feel and look, their protagonists have unique personalities, the conflicts are distinct.
So when seeking new ideas don’t be discouraged when you find they are not 100% new. Write it anyway! No one writes the way you do and no one thinks the way you do. Seek out ways to make your ideas shine in a way that only you can.
The writer Tom McCarhty says that writing is more like being a DJ than being an artist: it’s all about sampling and re-mixing.
Oooh, I like that!
As you say, I have never thought of writing so much in the light of new story ideas or story lines, as it is in the unique ways of telling those stories. Each one is unique, and the wording/staging are what make a story wonderful. Our experiences are similar – since the dawn of the age – but how we react in and to them is unique. Since each of us is unique, the way we will string words together and meld them with our ideas is unique a well. Being human is our commanality – expressing ourselves is unique. (Have I used that word enough now? 😀 ) Wise old Solomon said it very well -“There is nothing new under the sun.” But we all exprience those same old things in new and different ways.
Another wonderful post, Jodi! Thank you, as always for helping to get my mind in gear.
Thanks Paula! You’re right we are all very unique in the way we compose our ideas. I struggled for a while when it seemed that every fantasy book had so many characteristics similar to mine. Now I’ve broken through that phase and can once again see just how different it is from anything I’ve read.
Great post Jodi, and very true. I know this all too well, as I am writing about vampires. Something that’s been done to death. However, an agent told me that if you believe you have something original, they will still give you a chance.
If we limited ourselves as artists because our stories are not truly original, then, there would be no new novels, new films or new songs because everything has been written, and said and sang about already but it’s all to do with HOW we choose to re-tell those well known stories.
You are much braver than I am trying to write a new vampire book with the current market. Can’t wait to read it one day!
You are so right, it is HOW we choose to rework age old stories.
It is so hard to be truly unique, or inventive. Someone can come along and draw similarities between whatever you write and something else. It is easy, and it can be discouraging.
I like what you say about this. It does come down, after all, to adding your own twist, feelings, your “take” on a story.
Perhaps what we should be looking for isn’t so much fresh ideas as a fresh voice.
It is much easier to draw similarities between two existing works, especially if you haven’t written either. I suppose that’s why people do it so much. Our brains crave ways of tying new ideas to ones we already have. It can be very discouraging at first. During initial drafting I’ve stopped worrying about how much a certain concept is too close to that of someone elses. Usually during the development of the book it finds a way of becoming it’s own entity and then it’s a matter of revision to straighten out the less than original content.
To echo Richard, it’s the voice that matters. That’s why one mystery novel can be gripping and another one with almost the same plot can be dull.
I read a novel recently about a guy whose wife just died. Her death is a mystery and their dog was the only witness. So he tries to teach the dog to talk. I’m telling you, that sounded really stupid to me, but it came highly recommended, so I gave it a shot… I couldn’t put it down. It was at once heartbreaking and fascinating, owing to the writer’s appealing voice.
A man teaching his dog to talk to find out the killer – that’s a new idea if I’ve ever heard one. I could see that turning out really bad, like you said. Now I’m interested, what’s the title and author?
I am glad that other reactions to this post are similar to my own: it is the voice of the writer that matters more than being “new”. Tell a story well and who cares if it’s not the most original idea on earth.
My girlfriend is presently reading Room by Emma Donaghue . The book has had countless plaudits and award nominations for being new and original. It’s USP? It is told from the perspectiev of a small child… in baby language. Infuriated the hell out of my girlfriend who felt that a good story was destroyed by the ridiculous prose.
Anyways, I’m off to pen a new novel told from the perspective of a bat and written completely in sound-waves…
Baby language… ummmm. Might have to pass on that one. As for the sound waves, would this be strictly an audiobook and if so will you provide translation? Don’t know about you but written adult English is sounding better and better!
I recommend an interesting book on this very topic: “Steal This Plot” by June Noble.
I’ll have to put it on my list! Thanks for the recommendation.
Whilst living in the USA I wrote a trilogy, a completely new story with something new on just about every page. The publishers and agents were, of course, not interested. However it was appreciated by the public when I self published it and went on the road. In fact I sold more than 11,000 copies. Still nothing happened other than that a leading bookstore chain made me wait for two years before paying for books that had been actually sold, not added to stock.
I returned to Europe and withdrew my trilogy, it now sits in my PC with 5 other books I have written.
The next step was to try to enter the ‘closed shop’ through a back door and a manuscript of mine has been accepted by a publisher specialising in erotic material.
It will be published later this year, title – “Golden Rose”, I doubt that even with success the mainstream publishers will take any notice and I will die and someone else will waste time trying to compete with those who have contacts and those who are in control.
Along side that interest I developed a method of recording symphony orchestras back in the 1960s that was unique and resulted in recordings of leading European orchestras that are superior to any recordings that exist of the same works.
Still even with outstanding reviews in such magazines as Fanfare there is virtually no interest from those who really control the industry.
It is all a hopeless task and a waste of a life.
I regret I cannot encourage anyone with talent to try to find success in an industry that is totally manipulated by just a few who have their agenda and are blind and deaf to anything else.
The situation is so extreme that I believe even if Shakespere were a young writer at this time in history, unless he had contact,s he would be completely disregarded.