Friday, May 18, 2012

The Same Old Story

Some people really don’t like the idea of writing the same plot over and over. They say things like, “Publishers just want to force us all into the same genre. They won’t even look at something new.” But look at how many times Cinderella has been told. There must be thousands of variations on that story. And look at the Romance genre. Forget the strict rules about what makes a book romance novel, most books in the genre follow the same plot. Two characters with problems meet. They are soon at odds with each other. But as they discover that they need each other and that they are better together than apart. But that plot isn’t limited to the Romance genre or characters who fall in love.

In spite of the evidence we have a tendency to think that if we could just come up with a plot that no one has ever done before then it would shake up the literary world. People who try that end up with is a poorly done variation of an existing plot. What do we make of all of this?

First, people like a familiar plot because they like to know where the story is headed. When we’re telling stories with our friends, people usually have an idea where the story is headed. “How did you get that dent in your car?” “Funny story, let me tell you.”

But I think there’s more to it than that. I believe we can safely say that there are no new plots possible. Whether you say there are seven plots, or ten plots, or twelve plots, or one plot, or whatever number, it is just a way to categorize all of the possible plots. Every possible plot fits into one of the categories.

However, that doesn’t mean stories have to be old and tired. The variations on Cinderella range from the original to stories set in a high school involving the “popular kids” versus the geeks. Some variations on the story have male characters in the place of Cinderella. The changes make the story fresh, but we still want to see Cinderella defeat the evil step-family and win the heart of the Prince. Variations that don’t do that are not the Cinderella story, though they may bear the name. They will fall into another category of story.