Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I've Heard This Before

There are no new stories.

Bad news for those of us who write novels, right? Sort of. There may not be any new stories, but there are always new ways to spin that story. Boy meets girl. Good triumphs over evil. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Today I started a new book that distinctly reminded me of a book I beta-ed for someone. I've read blog posts written by authors bemoaning the fact that the newest YA release is the exact same plot they just finished. I've written a novel about Hatshepsut- Egypt's coolest Pharaoh- who, it turns out, there are two books already written about.

After millennia of human existence, there's just no new material out there. But that's fine and dandy because humans still want to hear those stories. We want to see the bad guy fall, experience true love's first kiss, and figure out who the murderer is. You just have to torque the plot a bit, toss in the unexpected on occasion, and tell it in a voice that makes the reader want to keep turning the pages.

If we work hard enough, I like to think we can all do that.

What's the story you're telling? What books (or maybe even movies) have the same kind of feel to yours?


Joshua McCune said...

When starting KD, I foresaw marketing it as a mix between Eragon and The Hunger Games (more the latter, but w/ dragons), but it hasn't evolved that way. Definitely a dystopian flavor, not so much the Star Wars rip off ;)

Amalia Dillin said...

I'm just hoping that the book in question didn't remind you of the book you beta-ed for me :P

Rick Riordan, I think, comes closest to what I'm trying to do. And obviously Margaret George and any number of other people have tackled the subject of Helen. Mary Renault did a terrific job with Theseus's early years. There was also a book about Eve by Elissa Elliot that I read and did not love. Possibly it inspired me to do a better job telling that particular story myself. Somebody even beat me to the Delilah story I've been mulling over in the back of my mind :P Which of course was done first in THE Good Book. What can I say? I have no shame!

Those are my stories :)

Matthew Delman said...

If I distill the story of CaN down to its essence, it's strikingly similar to all the reluctant-injured-hero stories out there. In a purely tangental way, I see Moriah as a female version of Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven; in that movie it's the death of his friend that makes Eastwood's character realize he can't sit on the proverbial sidelines anymore. In Moriah's case, it's her journey of discovery through the city.

I won't even say my Steampunk elements are particularly original; the technology is standard enough in the genre that I'm just re-using stock vehicles/weapons/concepts.

As you said though, the primary difference is that we're telling the story. No one will tell the same story the way we tell it as authors, and that's going to be our major selling point. You whack the voice on the head and big-bang-boom you've got a book people want to read. No matter if the storyline's been rehashed ten thousand times before.

Jemi Fraser said...

Good question. My story is about vengeance, inventions and young love. Probably could be about a whole bunch :)

L. T. Host said...

My first book, the fantasy novel? Turns out most of it was already done by Piers Anthony. *sigh*

I like to think the rest are original, but only time will tell :) I'm sure I'll come across similar stories at some point.

Unknown said...

While any story CAN be retold well, I think books like Eragon prove that sometimes they aren't and that's when the lack of originality is noticed.

Ricardo Bare said...

Well, in the games industry we have a similar phenomenon: ideas are a dime a dozen, it's the execution that matters. It's a generalization of course--having a good concept helps, but not as much as executing well.

I think the book "Story" has some good material on this, if I recall (e.g. Stereotype/Cliche vs Archetype). "Boy meets girl" will always be a something people want to read about, as long as it's told in a fresh way, in a fresh voice.

As far as what I'm working on: I'm wrapping up a last (I hope) edit pass on a older YA Fantasy called Jack of Hearts. Here's a quick teaser/summary:

"Jack is a boy without a heart. He surrendered it long ago to the Lady of Twilight. In exchange, he no longer feels the crushing loss of his sister … or anything else. But there is a price. The Lady transforms him into a callous hunter with a mandate to chase down and kill a thieving sorcerer named Moribrand. When he meets Cassandra, a beautiful girl trapped in a glass mirror, the impossible happens — Jack feels an echo of his distant heart and the sensation staggers him."

No books comes to mind immediately in terms of similarity, (prob my fault for not reading enough--maybe someone else can think of something based on the summary?) BUT, I'm definitely inspired by some of the movies I watched growing up, like Never Ending Story, Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal. Those were magical to me, and I can see their influence bleeding into the tale.

Anyway, post got me to thinking. Sorry for the 40megaton comment!

Gary Corby said...

There's no danger at all. If derivative plots and a complete absence of originality were an issue then Dan Brown would be a poor man.

Execution, voice, and a fresh angle on an old theme are what matters.