Your Story: Total Originality Required?
New writers sometimes think that the #1 goal is to come up with something totally original, as in, "never been done before". A lot of my students at WriterJump come to their first class carrying this heavy creative burden. For some of them, it has become a roadblock to any progress whatsoever.
It's an obstacle I'm very happy to help them demolish.
Truth is, audiences often don't need (or particularly want) something entirely brand new. In fact, we often desire something that feels familiar. We just want it to feel fresh, unique, full of surprises. "The same but different", as Blake Snyder puts it. It's the reason many of us keep lining up for roller coasters and haunted houses even if we've "been there, done that" a hundred times before. Come on, aren't they all the same? Well, no, not exactly. But it really doesn't matter. We want that familiar rush again; we just want to feel it differently.
Case in point. Tell me what popular current TV show I am describing:
"A hardened warrior, scarred and emotionally disconnected by the events of a well-concealed past, is tasked with safely delivering a special young person through multiple obstacles. When he finally gets to his destination, he has trouble letting them go."
If you just went cross-eyed realizing 'The Mandalorian" and 'The Last Of Us' are literally the same story (and even starring the same guy!), take comfort in knowing that this well-worn plot has been repeated countless times. Why? Because if executed well, it's one of the most universally relatable and emotionally resonant stories out there. We love it. Apparently, we can't get enough of it.
Both of these shows have been massively successful. They are not mere photocopies of each other, but stand solidly and uniquely on their own. Clearly, people don't mind seeing the same thing more than once, so long as the presentation offers something truly intriguing, new, and inspiring - as if we're seeing it for the first time.
Of course, be as original and innovative as you want to be! But if you've got a great idea and the only thing stopping you from moving forward is a fear that your concept has "already been done before", don't let that stop you. (Spoiler alert: It's all been done before.)
The question isn't, has this story been told before? The real questions are: Does this type of story have enduring appeal to people? If so, how am I going to do it differently?
You've got this. Happy writing!
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