Haven’t I Seen This Before?

Speaking as someone who watches a LOT of movies, I’m pretty familiar with common story-lines and thematic elements that occur on a film-to-film basis. As a reader, I pick up pretty quickly on repetitive elements across different stories that I read. I notice when characters follow similar (or the same) arch. But as a writer, this makes me constantly second-guess my creative side.

I get random ideas in my head, and naturally I write them down. Like any writer I get totally wrapped up in my characters and the story-lines that I’m developing, but at a second glance, I always ask the same question–one that sends me into a horrible shame-spiral–“haven’t I seen this before?”

Sometimes this makes me fear that I’m a terrible writer, and that I’m not at all creative. Thoughts like “why-am-I-bothering-with-this-nobody-wants-to-read-the-same-old-thing” run rampant in my head. But then I think about the rest of the bigger-than-me world. Are there actually any “new” ideas out there?

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Let’s take a very brief look into the world of film to illustrate this point.

The 90s movie She’s All That minus its 90s styling and sensibility equals George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion. Back up a decade, and so does Pretty Woman (a great movie!). Go back to the 1960s, and Audrey Hepburn’s Eliza Doolittle and Rex Harrison’s Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady are yet another big-screen representation of Pygmalion. The play itself is derivative of the Greek story of Pygmalion (from the poem Metamorphoses), who prayed to Aphrodite that he could fall in love with and marry the living likeness of a statue which he created. She fulfills his prayers by changing the statue into a real woman. This element of changing a woman into something else (in each instance it can be argued that she is “bettered” in some way) is the common trend between each adaptation of the story of Pygmalion.

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So does that mean that Alan Jay Lerner, J.F. Lawton, and R. Lee Fleming Jr. (the writer’s of My Fair Lady, Pretty Woman, and She’s All That respectively) are “terrible” writers, like I feel like I am sometimes? Does it mean that they aren’t actually creative?

The more I think about it, the more I think that these writers’ abilities to tell the same story in a different way makes them even more creative. Somehow they created characters whose stories have been told time and time again, and yet we as viewers are still totally engaged in their lives.

Authors do the same thing in a less publicized manner. Like everyone else on the planet, I love love love Harry Potter, and I think JK Rowling is great. BUT! even elements of Harry Potter can be traced back to earlier writings (the Bible anyone?). What’s so great about it though, is that unless you are actively looking for analogous elements, you don’t realize that what you’re reading is not original. You become totally engrossed in the book.

That’s why I think its a-okay if my (and your) “original” ideas aren’t so original. The notion that there are no new ideas is almost comforting, because at least all writers are in the same boat.

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Do you guys have a favorite “new” version of an “old” story? Do you believe “new” ideas actually exist? Let me know in the comments!