Wednesday, June 9, 2010

There are no new story ideas.

I read an interesting post on Nathan Bransford's blog back in March. It's stuck with me, and I wanted to devote today's post to further exploration and get your opinions on it. Nathan sez there's an old saw that we only have a dozen or fewer stories that just keep getting rewritten with new characters in new settings. (My apologies if I'm paraphrasing it incorrectly, but that seemed to be the gist of it to me.)

If that old saw is true, then there are no new stories in the world of literature. Every possible plot, or outcome, or chain of events, except for some potential twists and turns, has already been created and printed. I'm not certain I agree with that. Are we not creative enough as writers to come up with something completely original?

What do you think? Is your finished novel, or your WIP, a copy of someone else's plot? Chime in and tell us what you think. Do you agree or disagree that all the story ideas have already been written?


  1. I've heard this before. One of my mentors, Robert Allen, said the same thing. There is no truly new idea. What makes it unique is what spin the author puts on it, because each individual's imagination is unique. The Cinderella story, in is basic form, is everywhere. Even in Harry Potter. But changing Cinderella into a boy wizard is definitely a unique twist. :)

  2. I think story "ideas" may not be new but just like fingerprints different writers can bring so many perspectives to an idea that can make it fresh. Plus, when you add the characters, setting, and voice, you add even more differences.

    I believe that you can give two writers the SAME story idea and will end up having two DIFFERENT types of stories.

  3. I think people who say "there are no new ideas" just can't think of any. Of course there are new ideas. Technology is proof of that. Yes, most people just imitate what they think is a good idea, but that doesn't mean there aren't any left. When exactly did we run out?

    That being said, humanity has universal archetypes, themes, patterns ingrained in our subconscious that we tend to repeat. It comes out in literature a lot. It's our generations equivalent to an "oral tradition." We repeat story lines in various forms, we give them our spin and we pass them along our own way. There's nothing wrong with that. It's part of what makes us human. And it's kind of beautiful.

  4. I love your comments so far. Keep 'em coming.

  5. I believe that there are only a handful of stories in the world that can be written. However, like Karen said, everyone's imagination is different. I know mine works on a whole different ball park than my sisters'.

    So, yes I agree that there are only a few stories that can be written over and over again, but I also agree that, since everyone's imagination is so different, no two stories are ever the same.

  6. I think there are certainly new stories out there. Just look at how many totally different stories can be generated by one prompt, be it a word, a picture or a phrase. Every writer has different experiences and perspectives to bring to events, so even if the actually bare bones of the story are the same, the way it is told and the details will be fresh and new.

  7. The six stories people sometimes refer to are incredibly vague, they're more six story conflicts. Any actual story is free to mix and match conflicts.

    1) Man vs Man
    2) Man vs Himself
    3) Man vs Nature
    4) Man vs God


    There's different versions...

    Rise and Fall

    It's not that there's nothing new to be written, more that the overarching fundamental theme of most books can be summarized in one of the above.

  8. I agree with Drachen. Limited number of themes but plots have much greater variety.

    It's like a food analogy. There is beef (We could call that Theme) but there are so many different cuts of beef and so many different ways to cook each different cut. That's the plot, the different ways of cooking a story.


  9. Probably, but in an unusual way. The other day I was doing my morning walk when I realized that my first book is, in a strange way, a copy of a Venezuelan book I was read for Spanish Lit. Main character, out of his element, must battle his way to become a leader in a new land, but instead of being the Amazonian jungle, it's the quiet streets and fields of Woodstock, Oxfordshire.

  10. Reminds me of the time I went to Disney World. There was a show about the advancement of technology. Animated statues sat in a 1940s living room and discussed how they live in the best of times because everything worth inventing has already been invented.

    This is the biggest fallacy in history. The story is out there, we just haven't thought of it.

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