writing, Writing advice

One of a Kind

There’s a saying among people who say such things that there are no original stories. They do have a point. Human beings have been telling stories to each other stories for about 10,000 years so I tend to agree with them about the originality angle. Though the trappings change over time, from ferocious animals to space ships and computers, the basic human stories are the same. The basic human stories are universal.

In my college days, there was an apocryphal theory (I’ve never researched its validity) going around that in all of literature, from The Epic of Gilgamesh to Star Wars, there are only two real stories: Jack, The Giant Killer, and Cinderella. According to this theory, everything is simply a variation of one of those two templates: The underdog is victorious against all odds (or isn’t); and the person goes from rags to riches (or doesn’t).

I’m not sure how valid the theory is. But I have always thought it interesting and possible.

The biggest lesson I take from the “Two Stories” theory is the inarguable fact that none of us can write a truly original story because all the original stories have been told already and several times. If we wait to find an original story to write, we will never write. It can’t be done.

That isn’t to say that we can’t be original. We can. But the difference is that while we will never be able to write an original story—that is impossible—we are more than able to tell an existing story in a new way. We can set it in an original place (Star Wars is an old fashioned western set in space). We can show it from a different point of view. We can tell the story in a different (such as a nonlinear) form. We can turn a work of fiction into a poem; a poem into a work of prose.

Most of all, we can use our own, original voice and perceptions, to make a familiar story new. Each of us is a unique individual. We each have a unique set of skills and values and relationship with the world around us. It is that which, when we properly harness it, creates the originality we seek in all art.

The originality isn’t in the story itself; it’s in how we tell the story.

Trust your skill. Trust your instinct and vision. Most of all trust yourself and be yourself. It is only through trusting yourself and your voice that you can truly write original work.


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