IcarusWilliams's picture
IcarusWilliams from Los Angeles is reading American Psycho March 21, 2013 - 2:56pm

Hey everyone! My name is Ramsey, and this is my first post in the LitReactor community.

Like the rest of you, I'm working to become a masterful storyteller, though I sometimes feel discouraged when one of my story ideas has already been 'done' in some capacity. To give an example of what I'm talking about, I'm almost finished writing this short horror/ slasher story I've been working on, and a friend told me that it reminded him of the TV show "Dexter." After making some edits to make it less like Dexter, I began reading "American Psycho" and was shocked at how similar (or at the very least, comparable) it is to my story.

Though familiar with the phrase, "good artists borrow, the best artists steal," I get frustrated because it's seemingly impossible to be original when everything has been done (and also because I'm trying to be original and have no intent to rip anything off). I'm not sure if I have a direct question, but does anyone have tips or advice to solve/ work around this problem?

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated March 21, 2013 - 3:16pm

Accept it and move on. With as many people are alive you just won't have a truly original idea. Some here disagree with me. We hashed it out on this thread a little while back, even though it was slightly off topic.

http://litreactor.com/discuss/how-can-i-protect-my-idea?page=1

IcarusWilliams's picture
IcarusWilliams from Los Angeles is reading American Psycho March 21, 2013 - 3:28pm

Thanks, Dwayne :) I was looking for a forum post on this topic but I couldn't find it.

Courtney's picture
Courtney from the Midwest is reading Monkey: A Journey to the West and a thousand college textbooks March 21, 2013 - 4:15pm

Don't try to be original.

I like to map out plots and ideas beforehand, and when I try to make them unique or original, they usually go down the drain. To be honest, most good stories are fresh takes on old stories or love letters to favorite authors and favorite books (or the worst authors and their worst books.) If everything's been done, do it in a new way.

Think of it from a zombie writer's point of view: zombies are one goddamn subject, but you can keep refreshing the story. Rob W. Hart, a columnist here, wrote one because he thought about how great of a sanctuary a certain island would be during a zombie attack. It's a simple change to an age-old story, and it works.

That's all that's needed -- a fresh spin. Don't set out trying to be original, set out trying to tell a story you like, whether it's been told before or not. I mean, Joyce Carol Oates has written so many books and nearly all of them are about rape, molestation, or race. They're all so fucking good, though, because she changes the story each time.

(PS: Had you read American Psycho or Dexter before you came up with this idea? If you did, you're probably already doing what I suggested. All of my good stories are about families or mothers, and half the time, it's a love letter to authors like Janet Fitch or Wally Lamb.)

IcarusWilliams's picture
IcarusWilliams from Los Angeles is reading American Psycho March 21, 2013 - 4:59pm

Thanks, Courtney! That made a lot of sense to me, I really appreciate your input.

 

PS: Had you read American Psycho or Dexter before you came up with this idea? If you did, you're probably already doing what I suggested.

I haven't seen every season, but I'm pretty sure the idea for my story was a response to "Dexter"-- as in "this is what I wish the show focused on, this is the how I wanted Dexter to be." When my friend told me that the story reminded him of "Dexter," I added a paragraph in which the character sees the show and reacts to it. I was afraid it might seem contrived, but my wife read the next draft and told me she liked that part. *shrug*

I hadn't read or seen American Psycho until after my story was written. Within reading the first few pages I was like, "fuuuuuuuuuck," but as it continues, I'm feeling more confident that my story is stylistically different enough to stand on its own.

Thanks again!

 

Dino Parenti's picture
Dino Parenti from Los Angeles is reading Everything He Gets His Hands On March 21, 2013 - 5:13pm

Dwayne and Courtney have hit it on the head. Accept it and don't let it get to you. We're the same species and we're suceptible to all the same longings and fears and desires, therefore it shouldn't be surprising that so many tales repeat in different cultures even before they've ever cross-pollinated. I once wrote an X-Files type story a decade before it ever became a show, and I thought I was the shit, until I read some Ray Bradbury and J.G. Ballard and realized others had thought of the same thing well before me. It's actually something to celebrate because it means you've tapped into our collectiveness as humans. All you need to do now is just write. Your own voice and experiences will make the "familiar" stories unique.

Courtney's picture
Courtney from the Midwest is reading Monkey: A Journey to the West and a thousand college textbooks March 22, 2013 - 4:07pm

this is what I wish the show focused on, this is the how I wanted Dexter to be.

Honestly, I think this is where the best stories come from. It's why writers write. We see something, and we think, "Fuck that, it should have been like this." You're telling the story you want to tell, and that's honestly what matters most when it comes to producing authentic, fresh, good storytelling.

From the various clues, I've come to understand that you're basically writing about the moral ambiguity of a killer. That phrase can be applied to a lot of work, but that doesn't make it a bad thing -- it means you're writing about something interesting, that's plagued writers for decades, and is definitely something worth writing.

Most of my stories can be summed up as "an exploration of motherhood/families" and that could be said for a lot of work -- and most of my favorite work -- and that's a good thing. It means I've found a niche that fits me, which can be key to writing. You can find writing by authors like yourself, who write stories you'd write, which means you can improve through seeing others.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies March 22, 2013 - 4:11pm

i have an upcoming Storyville column that is all about avoiding clichés and stereotypes, which could be something that you all really dig, in relation to this thread. everything has NOT been written.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like March 22, 2013 - 8:30pm

When you consider the infinitesimal speck of human history against the panoply of astrophysical inquiry and understanding, I think it's closer to the truth to say "Nothing has been done before" (unless you believe in endlessly ramifying parallel alternate universes, (which I'm inclined to believe are bullshit); and even then, you'd still be extrapolating the done-ness of everything from one piddling iota of each universe's space-time)—that's closer to the truth, mind you; I'm not saying that nothing has been done before; that'd be ridiculous.

[only eighty-five words]

Jonathan Riley's picture
Jonathan Riley from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Flashover by Gordon Highland March 22, 2013 - 8:37pm

Wrong thread J.Y. but. You did it right. I had no idea it was one sentence, and it was as smooth as...(fill in the blank)

 

Courtney's picture
Courtney from the Midwest is reading Monkey: A Journey to the West and a thousand college textbooks March 22, 2013 - 8:56pm

That sounds interesting, Richard, but I don't think it really works with this thread. I think we're confronting the abstract, like the plot and idea, and not so much the technical.

When I was in eighth grade, I came up with a story that I desperately wanted to write. I thought it was, honestly, one of the best ideas I could ever have. I still have the notebook I wrote it in, and I still take it out and toy with it from time to time, even though I found out that it was nearly identical to The Great Gatsby. If I ever write it, it will no doubt be a love letter to Fitzgerald, but it'll also be my version of TGG.

That's why I never worry about being original -- I mean, let's be real: it's great to read another version of your story by an established author, but no story will be more entertaining to you than the one you write.

Bob Pastorella's picture
Bob Pastorella from Groves, Texas is reading murder books trying to stay hip, I'm thinking of you, and you're out there so Say your prayers, Say your prayers, Say your prayers March 23, 2013 - 5:06am

I believe that it all has been done before, the actual mechanics of it, and the only thing that makes it original is the writer and the perspective. I recently heard about a 'new' twist on Zombies, where the story takes place after a cure is found, and how the once living dead are being reintegrated back into society having to face the wrongs they did while zombies. So yeah, it's the writer and the perspective. The topics are hung out to dry, the plots our ladders for us to throw against the house and write ourselves on to the rooftop to shout out that we did it, we wrote something different, but it is only original by the writer and how we spin the tale. 

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore March 23, 2013 - 8:03am

At the risk of restating what's already been said here (how fitting), simply changing the point-of-view on a familiar subject is one way of achieving originality. Chuck Palahniuk said something in one of his stories about people always wanting to have "the furthest camera back" for the truth, and then someone inevitably goes and puts their camera behind even that one. Ad infinitum.

Tim Johnson's picture
Tim Johnson from Rockville, MD is reading Notes From a Necrophobe by T.C. Armstrong March 23, 2013 - 10:13am

It depends on how deep you go with a story. You could look at Dexter as a vigilante who satisfies his own desires by punishing criminals who the justice system can't capture.

That's also Batman.

What makes Dexter unique is not the fact that he's a serial killer who struggles with empathy. It isn't his code. It isn't his almost poetic internal dialog. It isn't that he's also a blood spatter analyst. It isn't that his sister also works for the Miami PD. It isn't that he has a boat and dumps his victims in the ocean. It isn't that his dad was a cop.

It isn't any one of these details. It's the fusion of all of them that make it unique. How was Dexter conceived? Honesty. I firmly believe that if you, as a writer, pursue what interests you with honesty, everything you do will be unique. Will it have some elements that could be similar to other things? Sure because we're all (well, most of us) working within the confines of similar worlds with similar physical realities, and if we weren't, no one would be interested in it, not even us.

Write what interests you. Work without boundaries. Put honest creativity into your work. Then, nothing you do will be like anything else because you are unlike anyone else.

Did I just say every writer is a beautiful and unique snowflake? You bet I did!

On another note, it's also human nature to associate things. So, all your readers will read your work and think, "hmmm, this is kinda like this other thing." That's just going to happen, and it doesn't mean your work isn't original or derivative. It just means someone made a connection.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies March 23, 2013 - 11:53am

That sounds interesting, Richard, but I don't think it really works with this thread. I think we're confronting the abstract, like the plot and idea, and not so much the technical.

Well, then Stephen King should never have written anything, as we all know Stoker did the vampire, why write Salem's Lot? What I meant was the voice you put to any plot, that's what makes it new. Sure, the classic dramatic structure of hook, inciting incident, conflict, resolution has been done for a very long time, back to Shakespeare, to the Greeks, etc. But so what? The way that YOU tell your story, that's what makes it original—the word choices, the POV, the imagery, etc. You could even take three horror writers and ask them to write a story about a little girl that is possessed by a demon, and Ketchum, King, Barker and Straub would all write different stories. I love the way China Mieville builds his worlds, the way that Stephen King builds in the little details, the lyric prose of Clive Barker, the brutality of Ketchum. If I didn't believe that I had something original to say, then I'd stop writing. It's like saying, "Oh, pizza, it's all the same. You know, cheese, sauce, crust, some sausage, whatevs, I've been there, done that." All pizza is not the same. All sex is not the same. All stories are not the same, even if they do borrow plot elements.

I think that my article on clichés and stereotypes really can show you ways to create original and unique stories. I don't think we can worry about the bones, the structure, the outline being similar, right?

Bekanator's picture
Bekanator from Kamloops, British Columbia is reading Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter March 23, 2013 - 6:03pm

Good points, Richard.

I like to think that if you really put your heart and your guts into a story that there will be something original that will speak to somebody. Might not be everyone, but to me writing is about finding that small audience out there that thinks the same way you do.

Nick Wilczynski's picture
Nick Wilczynski from Greensboro, NC is reading A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin March 24, 2013 - 12:19am

Just steer clear of the trendy tropes.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated March 24, 2013 - 1:02am

Or at least if you write about one be aware that regardless of if you embrace it or use it as satire it will date your work very strongly, possibly to the point it will lose all value in just a few years.