I’ve spent nights racking my brain for an original idea, knowing that it’s in there, deep, trapped like a dust bunny between synapsis.
And then it comes to me: that never-been-done-before original idea. And, with vigor, I share it with my husband or my bestest writing buddies, and they’re like, “Oh, cool. So, like the Hunger Games then? ” After a few defensive rounds of, you’re not getting it, and let me explain it one more time, I realize they’re right. It’s the same story, with different characters.
A wise man once said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Yeah, that Solomon guy was the bomb. A lot of experts agree with old Solomon. They theorize that there are really only a handful of plots out there. The idea that we keep telling the same stories with new twists and different characters has been around for a while. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s human nature to want to read familiar stories. We like stories we can identify with. This doesn’t mean the story is filled with things we’ve experienced ourselves or events that remind us of someone else’s experiences. It just means that some element of the story is relatable, or is something we can connect with on some sort of empathetic level. Generally, we can find something to connect with in even the most far-fetched stories. We love to read things that make us go, “Me too!”
In my previous post, A FORMULA FOR A BEST SELLER?, I reference Vulture.com, a site that breaks basic plots into categories like impostors or forbidden love and then explains the plot devices within the story line. Using the works of William Wallace Cook’s Plotto, Christopher Booker’s The Basic Seven Plots, and Ronald B. Tobias’s 20 Master Plots, the claim is made that there are really only around eighty fictional plots out there. Other experts in literature claim there are as few as twenty. I suppose it depends on how broad or narrow a lens you’re viewing the plot from. I mean, something like the idea of survival could probably be identified in most stories. It’s interesting, however, to look through the list and see where the stories you’ve created fit.
Regardless of whether you think there are infinite plots or a handful of recycled ones, one thing can be certain. Themes do resurface, because humanity goes through cycles. It’s important to understand this as an author. Understanding plots can make us better, more effective writers and might even enable us to create stories that profoundly impact hearts.
Now, that’s a thought.