In the crazy firestorm that is the major motion picture The Hunger Games we need to stop a moment and realize with a small whimper of sadness that all the good ideas may be used up.
Don’t judge me. The Hunger Games has a nice narrative, flows well, tells a good story and is all-in-all a well written novel. The problem is that Suzanne Collins may have accidentally used a plot line that is already published at least twice. How many of you remember the Richard Bachman book The Long Walk or the Batoru Rowaiaru novel Battle Royale? Both of these older novels (Bachman/King’s novel in 1979 and Rowaiaru’s in 1996) contain the following plot points: teens are chosen by lottery to participate in a dystopian government’s competition for food/resources and the last representative left alive at the end is awarded the food/resource. All of these books include 16 year old protagonists and dystopian futures.
For other books on this subject (or plotline) have you ever read Tunnel in the Sky by Robert Heinlein? This is more than just a Joseph Campbell moment where an archetype is repeated over and over again as Dr. Campbell stated in The Hero With a Thousand Faces. These are near direct plot copies.
Each year, Hollywood produces more and more remakes of older films or television shows or writes scripts based on old comic books for super hero movie blockbusters and awesome AMC television series (not knocking The Walking Dead. The writing added to the comic book storyline is top notch). It seems that the post-modernists were right when they said “all the stories have been told”. Are we facing a future where nothing original will rise up out of the malaise of carbon copy plotlines?
I wonder. As I write my current novel I find myself using elements of The Postman by David Brin, a dynamic for survival as seen in The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, demon/angel banter like The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, and humor like Charles Portis. (If you haven’t read Mr. Portis, then every good writer should).
It is so difficult to write something original, but it is also difficult to shape it into something that someone will want to read. I want my intuitive readers to see that my sniveling car salesman character is wearing the Army Ranger uniform he stole from a dead soldier in order to gain privilege is a nod to Gordon Krantz in The Postman. I want to have opening lines like Charles Portis in Dog of the South: “My wife Norma had run off with Guy Dupree and I was waiting around for the credit card billings to come in so I could see where they had gone.”
What writers have to do is not to rob blatantly but to be suttle with nuances, reference great writing, and tell their own story. I, for one, do not believe that all the stories have been told. I hope I am doing just that with my current novel. In truth all we can do is our best, telling good stories and causing our readers to escape into a reality that we create for them. What we write may not be wholly original, but it will be ours.
7 thoughts on “Gone, Gone: Are All the Good Ideas Gone?”
This reminds me of Foster-Harris and Polti’s 36 dramatic situations.
I think it’s impossible to come up with something that’s never been done before. Sometimes it’s more often a case of right time right place than the actual idea 😉
Hmmmm, a Heinlein book I missed and will have to read now. Great post!
Nice piece Roger. I still like to think that we can add our own twist to a story as well. Even though there may be similar stories, there is still someone or something that makes it ‘personal’. That can definately cast a whole different reaction from the reader.
Good comparison – Heinlein’s “Tunnel in the Sky” was one of my favourite books as a kid. I’d been making comparisons between “Hunger Games” and 1984. Forgot about Heinlein. He did it better, of course. I see the comedy “Iron Sky” is out, too – an idea which Heinlein also explored in yet amother juvenile. I suspect the problem is actually that the kind of stories which appeal to us – which key into our sense of culture, our sense of self, the human condition – all must explore much the same ground. The question is whether an author can add an orgiinality to it. Heinlein did in many ways, this to the point, I suspect, where people who come afterwards will always fall into his shadow when exploring the same ground. Thanks again for such an insightful post – good stuff.
I don’t think it’s possible to tell an entirely new story anymore, other than perhaps relaying the psychological profiles/stories of psychopaths… their worlds seem most unlike the rest of us. Otherwise, we are all part of a similar human experience. What is unique is the specific set of experiences that make up each of us, and what we want to say about it… how far or not far we’ve gotten in the understanding of ourselves and the world around us. That differs greatly for everyone. Even if you are well-read and think you’ve heard it all, it’s another thing to have had your own life experience that allows you to relate closer to what you want to say and to say it better than anyone else. Just my two cents. 🙂
Two cents appreciated. Much of my current novel is based on personal feelings, faith and people I have met in my lifetime. That is what makes it unique I suppose.
It’s pretty much why we write–not to just conjure up a unique, clever story, but to say something important that we believe needs to be said. Even though we know basically it’s all been said before, apparently, we humans need to be beat over the head with a 2-by-4 on those all-important lessons of life. That’s why reinventing a familiar story still manages to work.