View Full Version : No Story is Truly Original

02-24-2010, 09:36 AM
For those of us who like to write original work or dream about publishing our own original work someday, the first time you hear this statement you'd probably either be adamant that it's wrong or feel discouraged. But IMO it's kind of true. Everything has been done before. No plot is truly original. However, I also don't think that should discourage any of us, because the execution of your not-100%-original plot is the key. Take these two for example:

Battle Royale is a book (later made into a movie) that takes place in an alternate timeline—Japan is a national socialist state, known as the Republic of Greater East Asia. Under the guise of a "study trip," a group of students from Shiroiwa Junior High School in the fictional town of Shiroiwa are sleep-gassed on a bus. They awaken in the Okishima Island School on Okishima, an isolated, evacuated island southwest of Shodoshima, also in Kagawa Prefecture. They learn that they have been placed in an event called The Program. The Program is a means of terrorizing the population, of creating such paranoia as to make organized insurgency impossible. In the manga, the economy had collapsed and the government created The Program to revitalize the economy. According to the rules, every year since 1947, fifty 3rd year junior high school (14-15 years old) classes are isolated, and each class is required to fight to the death until one student remains.

The Hunger Games trilogy: In a not-too-distant future, the United States of America has collapsed, weakened by drought, fire, famine, and war, to be replaced by Panem, a country divided into the Capitol and 12 districts. Each year, two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. Part entertainment, part brutal intimidation of the subjugated districts, the televised games are broadcasted throughout Panem as the 24 participants are forced to eliminate their competitors, literally, with all citizens required to watch. When 16-year-old Katniss's young sister, Prim, is selected as the mining district's female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart, Peeta, the son of the town baker who seems to have all the fighting skills of a lump of bread dough, will be pitted against bigger, stronger representatives who have trained for this their whole lives.

Notice the obvious similarity? When I first read the review about HG, that's exactly what I thought; that it sounded a lot like BR. I've only watched the movies, but it was way too confusing and bloody for me so although it definitely gave me long-lasting nightmares, I still don't think it's a brilliant literary work or whatever. I mean, I never truly understood the reasoning behind the whole program. Now, a lot of people think HG is a cheap rip-off of BR and is judging it solely on that; that because it's a similar idea that was released later, then it's just a rip-off of it's earlier similar plot.

But did that stop me from reading HG? No, it actually intrigued me because lots of people said HG's awesome. And I had to prove it to myself. And it turned out BR didn't stop me from loving HG either. As far as I'm concerned HG's much better, has way more character depths and so what if it looked like a rip-off? Is it so impossible for two people to have the same idea for a premise despite never knowing each other's works? I read that Suzanne Collins got the idea from watching some news on war and then a teenage competition right afterward and I'm pretty sure she wasn't even familiar with BR. It's just unfair if we condemn her to be a copycat when she simply had the same brilliant idea.

And no book can be 100% original. Maybe years ago, but now? It's all been done before. Just got to work on making an original execution on it.

Six Degrees
02-24-2010, 03:50 PM
When I first saw Hunger Games, it was exactly what I thought too (I've watched the Battle Royale movie too!).. I was intrigued, but certainly not intrigued enough to pick up HG though.

To be fair, HG is not the first book/tv show/comic/written work to "borrow" the idea from BR.. but I think the approach for both the books are quite different, such that it would not make sense to compare them side by side. To begin, the target reader is already different. I've always associated BR more as a 'psychological thriller' (or rather, exploring the human psyche) targeted at mature/adult readers while HG is definitely YA book.

So you're right to say that no story can be 100% original, but what it does mean is that when recycling a well-used idea, just be sure to give it a different spin and it can still turn out well.

That is probably something the 1091038701832 YA vampire novels out there can learn from. Not sure about everyone else, but after reading a few series, I find that they're all actually 70% similiar and therefore very boring to read after a while. I'm surprised that these books are so popular.. apparently I'm the only one suffering from vampire literature fatigue. :(

02-24-2010, 04:09 PM
It's a very accurate point to make and, like you said, it's the execution that makes it different. The cynic in me looks at the supposed "creepy, serial killer" movies and thinks can s/he not just run? Why go back into the house when all his/her friends are already dead? Why split up - stick together! And yes, seeing those outcomes over and over again does end up disappointing, which only serves to make watching a lot of those movies a complete waste of time. At other times, there's a major twist in the storyline that makes you sit up and take notice; to realise, for once, that the writers have made it worthwhile.

It's a shame, really, that storylines (whether in movies or books) sounding the same as something you've already encountered can instantly be a turn-off because it's a vicious cycle. You'll read the first and not bother with the second for thinking it won't have anything of interest. Or you'll read both and find out that you shouldn't have bothered with the second because there's nothing different or quirky to be found in the second. Sometimes, it's alright because like Bing pointed out the target audiences will be different, so theoretically, there'd be no need to try both. Other times it's just a case of approaching each with an open mind.

So yes, while the overall concept is never going to be original (or it's going to be a rare feat to accomplish given the amount of aspiring writers in existence these days), the finer details can set the two - or more - similar ideas apart. Characters can give you something to love or hate, the situations they find themselves in and even right down to the author/director/acting methods is something that defines one story as better/preferable to the other. Even with research beforehand, it's hard to find out whether your idea has already been done.