No Original Ideas?

I’ve heard many people say that there are no more original story ideas.  That everything has already been done in one form or another.  Is this true?  Have we run out of completely original ideas?  I don’t know about you, but that thought depresses me as a writer.  It’s like I’m doomed to repeat what someone else has already done better.  It reminds me of an episode of South Park (yeah, I watch it.  Believe it or not Trey Parker and Matt Stone weave some really poignant social commentary into those foul mouthed cartoon kids).  On this particular episode, Butters has an alter-ego called Professor Chaos who wants to take over the world.  He enlists a side kick and sets out on his journey for domination.  Every time he has a new plan, however, the sidekick chimes in, “The Simpsons tried that in episode 149” and so on for every plan until it just becomes “Simpsons did it! Simpsons did it!”

Are we all Butters/Professor Chaos, destined to redo things that have already been done?  It seems Hollywood has completely given up on original ideas with all of the remakes and sequels (prequels, three-quels, four-quels, five-quels; I wish I was exaggerating).  I mean, seriously, how many different plots can The Fast and the Furious come up with?  The first one was bad enough.  I love Indiana Jones, but do we really need 5 of them?  They just remade Footloose, are remaking Dirty Dancing, have yet another Mission Impossible and Step-Up movie coming.  Seriously?  When will it end?  I’m trying to think of the last time I saw a completely original (recent) movie and I’m drawing a complete blank.  Is publishing destined to fall into this well of repeats?

I write YA, so I constantly scan the shelves and read the book jackets in the teen sections of my local bookstores.  I read query critiques on agent blogs and on the AW forum.  I can’t tell you how many of the same story I keep reading.  How many variations of girl falls in love with vampire/werewolf/angel/fairy can there be?  How many times can the normal-teen-discovers-they’re-the chosen one/has magical powers storyline be done?  I literally read four book jackets in a row with that story.  Of course, they’re getting published so I guess they’re doing something right (or hit the trend at the right time).  Right now retelling of fairy tales and angel/demon books are popular, but even these stories are the same.  As much as I love Harry Potter, a boy wizard in a magic school wasn’t original either.  I read something similar when I was in the seventh grade (which was in 1995) and that had been out for a while.  And anyone who thinks the Hunger Games is original should take a look at The Long Walk and The Running Man by Stephen King.  I love Collins’s series, but she basically melded those books and made the main characters teenagers.

Personally, I get so frustrated when I come up with what I think is a great idea for a story, only to find out its already been done.  I think trying to come up with an original idea is part of the reason I’ve felt writer’s block lately.  Of course, I’ve read lots of agents and other writers who say it doesn’t have to be a unique idea, a new twist on an old story would work (such as Wicked), and while this is a great and interesting approach, it doesn’t answer my question: are there any original ideas left?  Or must we face the fact that everything has been tapped out and relegate ourselves to recycling?

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2 thoughts on “No Original Ideas?

  1. Originality is just a word. It’s about striking a nerve. If you strike an emotional chord with the audience you aim for, who cares if you have plot elements from other books. I’m not saying that people need to not care about stealing, but, if your work hits people, regardless of whether it’s funny or serious, that’s what counts.

  2. I studied postmodernism in my final year of school, which champions this whole “creativity is dead, the avant-garde tradition is finished” thing. It really is the most depressing philosophy! I think that, just because an idea happened first (like how Cervantes is cited as writing the first novel, in the form we know it anyway) it doesn’t necassarily mean it is the best, or will be affixed in memory as the original. Everything we create is derived from something, somewhere, and that is unavoidable – it’s about trying to manipulate your work to touch on the same old human emotions but in different ways.

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