When I was young, I dreamed of becoming a great novelist. So far, I still haven’t found the “novelist” groove, although I did make it about 1/3 of the way through writing one novel, and about 10% into another, both of which I’d love to resume writing if they weren’t on my dead laptop. In fact, nowadays, I’m so busy I don’t make time for writing fiction, which is a real shame.
Nonetheless, I was convinced (and to a point, still am) that I could write a unique, best-selling novel that was completely new, amazing, compelling, stunning – you know, all of those feel-good adjectives that writers hope for. Yet every so often, someone would drop by and say these dark words:
There is no such thing as an original story. It’s all been done before.
For a writer who dreams of making it “big time,” those words are crushing. They invalidate all the hard work you’ve put into Novel #481, the one you know is a real telling story. They make you want to give up; and many times, they’ve made me give up.
I’m not really sure where the “No Original Story” myth began. I’ve never seen it quoted from someone famous, but I’ve certainly heard it so much it’s a cliché of its own. It certainly has a glimmer of truth to it, however: in every novel, in every story, are strands that can be found in other stories. This doesn’t mean that authors are constantly borrowing from each other; it simply means that the human story is full of universal threads that writers often turn to when relating their characters to the human condition.
Not every story is original, but it doesn’t take a stretch to creating some incredible strain on the readers (ala Steampunk Zombie Turtles) to create something new. Nor is there any harm in retelling the stories that bind us together in a new, compelling way. Seek originality not in gimmicks, but in the special song that is your own voice and writing style. There, more than anywhere else, will you find the originality that makes bestsellers.