When I was a child, my grandmother told me one day, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” At first I didn’t understand what she meant. Later, as I got a little older I refused to believe her, and was determined to prove her wrong. Finally, when I began focusing on my career as a writer, I accepted her nugget of knowledge as fact, and learned to embrace it for the truth it is. However, if the above observation is true, then what makes any story different from the next?
LIFE EXPERIENCE, IMAGINATION, VOICE AND STYLE.
As most fiction writers will agree, we are products of our environment and individual life experiences and therefore, it stands to reason that many of the seeds for our story plots originate from said life experiences. This can be from what we’ve dealt with on a personal level, what we’ve heard from others, or seen around us including—but, certainly not limited to—what we’ve watched on television, read in books or learned in school. These personal life experiences give our stories a unique flavor which cannot be exactly cloned due to the intricate variables in our individual lives.
I believe that there is a collective consciousness which extends to us all, as we tap into our imaginations and creativeness. We must also accept the fact that the possibilities for formulating scenarios involving larger than life creatures, myths, epic heroes and monsters is finite, just as our voices and styles are infinite. As writers, we sometimes find in the course of plotting a story that we read stories from someone else who came up with very similar ideas for their already published work(s). It is because of this, I continue to work against the truth stated in the title of this post, in order to produce unique stories. I feel in doing this, I can delve deeper into the recesses of my imagination, creativity and life experiences to produce my very own individual story. It is here that we begin to use our imagination to find a variation of the themes we draw from our life experiences and formulate creatively new and exciting takes on tried and true scenarios and themes. It is then that we brand our stories with distinctive twists and turns and imbue it with our own individual spirits and personalities.
As a writer, I’m constantly thinking up new story ideas and using my voice and style to tell the stories. All writers have their own unique voice and style, which separates them from other writers. When it comes to certain elements of storytelling, there are no new ideas. Often, writers of genre fiction ultimately come across elements in another author’s work that closely resembles their own. While this is a common phenomenon, it doesn’t mean that we can’t separate ourselves from other storytellers using similar scenarios and/or themes; it merely means we must work all the more harder at imparting our own essence into our work in order to make it exclusive to us.
Just as there are finite possibilities in regards to scenarios and themes, there is again something to be said for voice and style. I’ve read books that had such similar plots that if you broke it down to the bare essentials it could be the same book. However, what separated the books was the differences in how the authors delivered the story, developed the characters, and the language used to breathe life into the personalities of the characters. How we tell a story, and how much of ourselves we put into our works, is what sets us apart from other writers with similar ideas and themes.
Always remember the old Vulcan axiom from the Star Trek series, Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations (IDIC), the philosophy which celebrates the vast array of possibilities and variables in the known universe. And while there are finite themes when stripped down to their essential cores, when we take into consideration the life experiences, imagination, voice and style of the storyteller, the possibilities are indeed infinite and quite fascinating.
© 2013 John F. Allen
You know, that expression is exactly what held me back from writing fiction when I was younger. I felt like every idea I came up with was unoriginal. I would shoot myself down before I even started. I picked fiction writing back up years ago, with that life experience you mention. Part of that is realizing I DO have my own voice and my own stories that may not be 100% new ideas, but just like songs are composed of the same 8 notes in different combinations, so are stories composed of a lot of basic ideas, presented in different ways.
Good article, John. And good stuff to remember when doubt creeps in while writing… Just tell your story. No one else will tell it like you.
Thanks Eric, I’m glad you enjoyed the post!
A great article and so true and encouraging.
You are very welcome! Continue to inspire and express your visions.