Posted by: Sarah | August 3, 2009

The Boggle Of Originality

I hear a lot lately about how there’s only so many plotlines in fiction that they’re all used up. That no one can possibly think of a new way to tell a story because it’s all been done before. Hell, even Shakespeare wasn’t original. If The Great Bard stole his plotlines, what chance to the rest of us mere mortals have?

I object to this line of thinking. Writers/storytellers of any sort take their inspiration from real life. Humans haven’t really changed in the thousands of years since we started telling stories to each other. We’re still small, petty beings who are basically only interested in our own selves. Generation after generation, we live, we procreate, die, and the cycle continues. We build cities, countries, governments. We tear them down, too.

So, those are the stories we tell. We tell the stories that we know. That we understand. Yeah, sometimes they involve quests to destroy a magical ring that could enslave everyone on the planet. Other times they involve a race to discover how to build a bigger and better weapon to destroy our enemies. Then there’s the great struggle between good and evil, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.

The problem isn’t the plots, or lack thereof. The problem is material. A storyteller cannot create in a vacuum. Those who believe we can have never actually tried to generate a story. We can change the world by adding magic, or mutant abilities, or a superhuman alien. But we cannot change our collective experiences to give those different characters different plots. Every culture in the world tells itself the same bedtime stories: quests, romances, grand adventures. They all have similar plots.

Writers cannot give people new creative experiences until people change. And, unfortunately, people cannot change without something giving them impetus. Usually, a work of fiction. Does this mean that humans are stagnant? No. It means that our society, our cultures on this planet, heck, even humans themselves, are evolving so slowly that we cannot see that we’re basically making it up as we go along. So we build fictional saviors by the hundreds, each one more unique in abilities and outlook than the last, but give her the same tasks to do that every savior has done since Time Immemorial. The underdog man/woman must conquer impossible odds to save mankind from itself. And why do we need saving? Because of the above smallness and pettiness we see in ourselves. Someone or some force outside of us must rescue us from our mistakes. We apparently, aren’t able to do it ourselves. We don’t believe that even the smallest person can change the course of the future – to paraphrase JRRTolkein, so we need someone to do it for us. Why? We know nothing different; we have yet to experience anything different. However, each new twist we put on that savior, that group of intrepid adventurers, evolves our ways of thinking. Each time a writer steals a plot and makes it her own, changes it, alters it, adds twists and turns, she’s evolving a new plotline. The basic one is still visible. However, with each alteration a new writer gives it, it becomes less and less identifiable.

Until eventually, storytellers get a new plot to play with, but will we recognize it?


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