I never participate in NaNoWriMo. I blame the month of November, because it never works out that I have enough spare time to write an entire novel. I’m also becoming more and more certain that I have ADD, which is my new excuse for rarely posting at all. I’ve got an answer for everything.
The knowledge that every person who fancies herself a writer and can somehow find the motivation to do so is currently finishing off that novel-in-a-month makes me think about the vast and expanding number of stories that exist in today’s world.
Tell me if you’ve heard this one: “There are no new stories.”
I’ve heard it a whole lot of times over the years. And I suppose, in some ways, it is true. Kind of. That is, at their cores a lot of stories are about the same basic things – there is a set number of stories that exist, I’ve heard, and absolutely every piece of “literature” (using it as a loose term, hence the quotes) falls into one of those categories. I believe I remember the number seven being thrown around. Not that I care enough about this particular claim to pay attention to what these categories actually are.
I don’t adhere to this. More specifically, I do not believe that just because two authors write books centered around prophesied dragon-slayers, they are writing the same book. Allow me to elaborate.
Let’s assume for a moment that it’s true, and there are no new stories. So, what the fuck am I doing? What’s the point in being a writer? Why don’t we all just give up, since all the stories have been told? Hmm. You know how some people say there are no stupid questions? They’re wrong. That last one is a really stupid question.
It might be so that one can strip down most stories to their basic plots or themes and lump them into broad groups. If you’re someone who does that, congratulations, you have managed to destroy the story as you were reading it. Because, although that core is typically important for most works, it does not make up the entire work. The plot, or the theme, is not the entire story. There are a lot of books that are suspiciously similar and do not offer anything new or make you think at all. I’m not talking about those. I’m talking about LITERATURE. By some definitions literature is any writing, but I’m a scholar, so that’s not the definition I work with. Literature has something to say, which goes beyond a single aspect like plot or theme or symbolism or any of those other terms you learned in grade school. The language is important. The way something is said. The expression of a common experience that is told in a way you have never read before. An image that awakens something in your mind. Reflections of the current times, important events in history and what they might mean.
I realize that this last paragraph is not the picture of clarity, and I apologize. I think about this a lot, and I so vehemently believe that new stories happen all the time that my arguments never come out in a calmly structured way. And, honestly, I don’t care, because I’m pretty sure you can still get the point.
The point is, what does originality mean? If it means inventing a plot that is completely unfamiliar at every turn, then we’re all screwed, because that’s impossible. Personally, I like to challenge this new story business by rewriting old stories in entirely new ways. Sadly I cannot yet prove this, since none of them have been published. If you have a way to help with this, you’d be one step closer to seeing my own brand of originality in action.
(Kidding, of course. I’m going to get myself published. It just might take a while.)
My thinking is that originality is not about creating a world no one has heard of, or adding complex twists to the basic plots all stories fall into. It is about the way the story is told. And honestly, one does not have to be Murakami (whom I still haven’t read yet) to be original.
Although I hear it helps.