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Are we repeating our stories?

... as storytellers we basically spend our lives telling the same story over and over, only we do it from different angles.
The trick is disguising it so it doesn't seem the same.
The L.A Diaries - James Brown

I once read an article that stated there are no original stories anymore; all we can do is repeat the same three stories over and over by adding our own twists and personal experience to them. Reading The L.A Diaries last night, especially the above quote, reminded me of this article and made me question whether it is true? Are we telling the same stories over and over?

I was in two minds today whether to do a book review about Goodnight, Beautiful, or write this, but thinking of Goodnight, Beautiful made me realise that, whereas I think Dorothy Koomson is an extremely talented writer, the themes of her five books are pretty similar. They all focus on real-life; she makes the ordinary, everyday life seem gripping and captivating. Family plays a strong role in her books - usually people tackle their demons, and their demons are family-related. Is she telling us the same story each time, but from a different angle like Brown suggests? More importantly, is it partially her story she is always telling us in some way?

Thinking about my own work to answer these questions, I agree with Brown's statement in some ways. All my chick lit books focus on the protagonist's destruction of their love/life and their subsequent search for their happily ever after - I probably am doomed to repeat these tales of destruction and re-building forever more.

But, as long as the angle is different, it's not repetition. We can't help but write what we know, and we can't help that we share our humanity and common experiences with everyone else (to a certain extent). This is why every story (whether real or fictional) is made from different influences - just like every person is - we may be echoing those three basic story concepts, yet through our highly unique lives we make those stories so much more than an echo. I think it's probably more accurate to say we repeat the same themes, but use our individuality to make the stories our own.

What does everyone else think? Do you think we fundamentally tell the same stories over and over, or are we more creative than that?!

14 comments:

  1. I think it's a bit like CSI, it starts with a body and they solve the murder along the way but each time the victim has died in a different way.

    So stories take on different angles, Whether it's season, year, decade, war (so like WW2 or WW1 or in the case of Atonement its the Crimean)

    I think everyone adds there own touches to the same story which makes it different.

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  2. I like God's Rock Angel's assessment of stories being told.

    It's also a matter of perspective. A chick lit story about a pretty blond, who self-destructs when encountering a relationship to reach their happily ever after, might be redundant to some people. It's part of their experience, either they know of it first hand or they know of someone and can relate to it in some fashion.

    A chick lit story about a woman you wouldn't necessarily encounter (maybe she's African-American, wheel chair bound, blind) would make the story new and interesting. It's the same story, same dilemma, but when we see the same story through the lens of someone else's eyes it feels like new.

    It's sort of like songs and movies. Some remakes are terrible, others are far superior to the original. But really, it all depends on who is listening to the song or watching the movie.

    The same thing applies to books.

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  3. So what did you think of the book then?

    To be honest, I really think completely original ideas are few and far between these days. A prime example of this are times I've developed what I believe is a truly original plot in my head and then forgotten about it until several months later when it pops up in a book concept someone ELSE has developed.

    However, I think everyone can put their own unique spin on something. Telling it from a different angle, perhaps sympathising with a different person. I guess it's not so much the story itself, but the way its told . . .

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  4. We talked about that in class the other day. I try to write very different stories from one time to the next since I hate repeating myself but I do think there are influences in each story that can be linked to others. It's not always very obvious but I know it's there.

    You can also look at it like even if you do write something completely different from what you've written someone else has always said it before. I mean, storytelling has been around longer than we can imagine so your story is always bound to resemble some other story. But then again it all boils down to how original you are in your writing. Love stories for example have been around for as long as the emotion but that doesn't mean they have to be unoriginal or boring. There is always a new twist that you can put on the story.

    Oops, I seem to have rambled for a bit there...

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  5. Really good point, but I think even the greats found it hard not to tell the age old stories - I guess it's what you bring to it that's different. Even Shakespeare used old myths and stories for his plots, he just did it so much better than anyone else and added his genuis into the mix.

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  6. You should definitley see Twilight! Have you read the books?

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  7. According to Christopher Booker there are seven basic plots. I'm not sure there are even that many.

    The problem with publishing is that the marketing bods all want the Next Big Thing to be just like the Current Big Thing so that they can sell it to the buyers in Waterstone's and elsewhere. The problem for writers which springs from that is that they want to do something which they think is different and which breaks new ground. You have the old infinite force versus immovable object thing going on.

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  8. @God's Rock Angel - I love your CSI analogy - it's a great way to put it! :0)

    I think everyone adds there own touches to the same story which makes it different.

    I think that's the key here. We're all unique, and through this uniqueness it is how we make the same story new.

    @ Liza -

    ... but when we see the same story through the lens of someone else's eyes it feels like new.

    It's definitely perspective as well, and fortunately for the sake of books/films/lyrics/etc we all have our own perspective along with our shared humanity that allows "new" creativity to flourish and make those same stories seem new. :0)

    Do you know, Liza, you've just made me feel my perspective is very limited with your comment! :p But it's true of anyone, to an extent we are all limited to the confinements of our experiences.

    @ Paula - I tweeted on the book! I probably should have messaged you!

    As for original ideas and other people, I used to find with my university essays that I'd have a great idea, but then would read the exact same idea in some book and would have to attribute it to them (or risk the wrath of plagiarism - gah!). At least with fiction, as long as you tell it your way, you can get away with having the same story! If not, I don't think there would be any new books published, and then what would we do!?

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  9. @ Mr S - Rambling is perfectly fine! :0)

    I don't think with writing we can ever deny who we are; even when we write something completely alien to us, a part of us will always creep in somehow!! But you are right, as long as it creeps in originally ... then that's what makes it okay!

    @ Daisy - Wasn't Shakespeare accused of ripping off some of his contemporaries (as well as using the old stories)?! One thing I forgot to add is that technological/lifestyle changes also help us to make the old stories new - we can bring different things to Shakespeare's tales for example, because of the time we live in ... although what he would make of his update of The Taming of the Shrew into the film 10 Things I Hate About You I do not know ... ! ;p

    @ Mandy - I will once it's out in the UK, and as for the books, I've read the first three; I'm waiting for Breaking Dawn to be delivered by Amazon! :0)



    And as a final point, I know I've broken my own rule with this post - over-analysing rather than letting books be - but I thought it would be interesting to get all your opinions on this! Thanks for your input, guys! :0)

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  10. @ Richard - The marketing aspect vs. writer's uniqueness is definitely true as well! Even if a writer manages to write some completely original and outlandish, then it might not even be recognised because it's not like everything else, which is really sad when a trivial thing like money prevents true talent.

    Thanks for stopping by! :0)

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  11. Sweetie,

    If your perspective is limited, mine is confined.

    I'm from Texas, for crying out loud! =D

    Love you!

    -Liza

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  12. Tee hee! Here's to my favourite sort of people - limited and confined ones! We can't help but be brilliant in our own *little* way! :D

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  13. I've heard this same theory in music-all pop music is basically variations on the Beatles, etc.

    Yes, it's probably true. Just think of all the Pygmalions you have seen-the class resentment, the love that dare not speak its name. And isn't that really just Romeo and Juliet anyway?

    Here's to the imitators!

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  14. I think it's true with everything - music, books, fashion - we can't help that, but we can work with it and put our take on it.

    Here's to the imitators! :0)

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