Friday, March 11, 2011

Only so many stories in the world

While today pretty much sucked at work, it was a good day for writing.  Not only did I get my 2K words in no problem, but I also received 3 more audiobooks I had ordered.  Good thing, too, since I finished L. Ron Hubbard's Kingslayer today on my way to work.  The way home, I almost started one of the new books, but instead rode in silent thought.

Kingslayer had been a good book, to be sure.  He avoided adverbs astutely, all except, of course, those tossed into the middle of the sentence right behind the verb where they belonged.  The book was written over a half-century ago, so of course the wordings used were a little quaint, but if you discounted those it was really a pretty enjoyable read. 

My only surprise came at the ending, when I realized I'd been listening to a 50's version of Star Wars in which Darth Vader became Yoda.  I hope I didn't just ruin the book for anyone, but's been around long enough that you should'a read it without my commentary.  In any event...from the storyline perspective, L. Ron got copied.  And probably copied, himself. 

I once heard someone say that there are only so many stories in the world.  I forget the actual number given, but it was somewhere around a dozen or three.  And they were right.  Let's take the story about a group of specially-abled kids led away to a school for the specially-abled, facing a specially-abled character turned evil.  Is this Harry Potter, or X-Men? 

Basically, as a story goes, there are five basic conflicts on which to base a plot.  Pick a conflict, and then color in the details, and you have a book.  Sounds simple, really, but the devil is in the details.   

Harry Potter is an excellent example of this.  It was really not a major breakthrough in terms of storyline, as I've already pointed out.  It was a Done story.  But what it was, also, and why millions of readers ate the books up faster than the good folks at Barnes and Noble could keep the shelves stocked, was a well done story.  JK Rowling had created a masterpiece not by somehow magically coming up with a story that nobody had seen before, but rather by taking a fairly commonplace plot arc and executing it amazingly well. 

Werewolves versus vampires?  Now that seemed a new plot arc to me, which is, I think, in my completely unqualified point of view, rather incomprehensibly not done well at all, that nevertheless drew millions of dollars to its author.  So...well, so much for my wisdom, eh? 

Point of this blog post?  Quit waiting for a great story idea that nobody has ever thougth of to come to you.  Take, instead, a basic and well known story line, and come up with a new way to present it.  Then send me a portion of the millions of dollars you'll earn.  :-)

Word count: 42,411

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  1. Note that I'm not really in the habit of going back and editing blog posts, since my philosophy is that they should contain free-flowing thoughts on the topic at hand. But when I get up in the morning and can't stand to read a post I made last night, I edit away, as I just did to this one.

  2. One of the plots on Jasper Fforde's book, Well of Lost Plots, is about the finite number of available plots for books. Hadn't thought of it before then, but it comes up on a regular basis now. It seems to apply to movies as well as books - hence the huge number of remakes (that are generally worse than the original). In fact, we just watched the movie Beastly last night - a modern remake of Beauty and the Beast.

    Even with concepts being re-used, I enjoy reading books (and watching movies). The combination of all the details surrounding the plot make or break the experience for me.

  3. Oh, Good Lord! I used the word "plots" THREE TIMES in one sentence. Ugh. Granted, one was in the title of a book, but still... Wish I could edit that.

  4. Very good point, and thanks for the comments! In commenting twice, you nearly doubled the number of comments my blog has received. :-)