Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Same old, same old

Christie at Spinning Straw Into Gold recently posted interesting questions about whether traditional fairy tales still naturally occur, and whether there is such a thing as a new fairy tale (I left my answer in the comments).

This got me thinking about writing in general, and about how we so easily say 'this has been done before' when we see a story that we vaguely recognise. Well, of course it has been done before. There is a theory, somewhere, that there are only about 13 different plots that can be used to make a story - but how many millions upon millions of stories are there in the world? How many books do you recommend to people, and say how great they are? 

If we think broadly about the subject matter in stories, we could link Twilight to Pride and Prejudice to Romeo and Juliet if we so choose. The real distinction comes from writing styles, format, language, and yes, there are some stories that really are like other stories (Mills and Boon is a whole industry based on the predictability of the plots!) but what I find interesting is that people are a lot more judgemental about similarity in books that in, say, fashion or music. 

In fashion, its 'cool' to look like everyone else, and vintage fashion is just wearing the same clothes that were worn years before. And as for music, Will.I.Am uses the same notes as Smashing Pumpkins, as Girls Aloud, as Mozart: there are only so many notes, after all. 

Perhaps this judgement comes from the personal investment we put into books. We spend money on them, then sit down specifically to give our time and undivided attention to them; if we don't invest this care, we don't 'get into it' and are unable to follow the plots. When we read a book, it is an experience that isn't shared by anyone else at the same time. 

Is this deep personal connection what drives the need for newness, for originality? Is the investment of money and dedicated time what makes us turn our noses up to story lines that seem familiar? I'd be interested to hear other people's thoughts on this...


  1. Gosh, I'm flattered! And a beautiful blog too!

    What I love about literary fairy tales, reading and writing them, is that they aren't original, and that presents a challenge to the author to make use of the plot and characters in inventive ways and to say something no one else has ever said before.

    That voice, saying something that only the author can say because no other person can say it quite the same, is what makes stories worthwhile to me, not that the plot is original.

    I hope you will enter Spinning Straw into Gold's fairy tale writing contest when I re-open it, which should be soon. My plan is to use it to launch a monthly or bi-weekly writing exercise so that authors and artists can support each other and hone our craft.

    1. Thank you very much!

      I didn't know you held a writing contest, but I will keep an eye out for it. Thank you for commenting here :)