Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Have we run out of stories...

...and does it matter?

Last night we went to see West Side Story at Leicester’s Curve Theatre, a modern and cavernous structure that I can’t quite decide if I like or not, but this post is not about the theatre, it’s about the show. Although it was an amateur production, it managed to pack the punch of that well-worn plot, two warring groups and two young lovers.

The story is as relevant today as it was when Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet in the 1590s and as relevant as when Jerome Robbins wrote West Side Story in 1957 and Mansoor Khan wrote the Bollywood version, Josh, in 2000. It’s such a powerful story that I believe it can stand any number of retellings.

But is it true that there are no new stories left to tell? Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was itself influenced by the Roman myth of Pyramus and Thisbe. Lord of the Rings has elements of Greek mythology in it and dare I suggest that Harry Potter has elements of Lord of the Rings.

If we were to select a piece of literature, say from the 19th century, and pair it down to the bare bones of the story, and then if we were to rewrite that story placing it in today’s world, would it be denounced as plagiarism or welcomed as a fresh piece of writing?

And if you know the answer do please tell me... is there such a thing as a completely new story?



  1. Good question. I don't know. I know I use little pieces of things I've read as inspirations for my writing.

  2. I think that wherever there is romance, imagination and good-hearted people, there'll be recipes for great stories.

  3. I have read that the only "original" (or completely "new") story is the story of a person's life, i.e. memoir. We all have things in common with each other, but we are still, individually, unique. That's my take on the subject! And since I just published my memoir...what else can I say (smiley face)!!
    Ann Best, Memoir Author

  4. Hi kmckendry, I'm sure that we all do that a bit.

    Hi Bob, that's so romantic. Thank you for the comment.

    Hi Ann, clever link. I like it ;-) Each of us has a unique life but is the plot structure of your life story similar to other people's life story. I rather suspect it is.

  5. I think it is rather heartening to find that there are common threads and stories in our lives. It is partly what we read books for isn't it? It is how you tell 'em that makes the difference and you only have to compare how wildly differently people tackle topics in any artistic endeavour to see how individual we are too.

  6. Maybe that's what makes fantasy and science fiction so popular - the assumption that you can write about the totally impossible and therefore different....except that sometimes the impossible happens.
    I remember as a chid listening to the science fiction radio programme "Man on the Moon", pure fantasy in those days.☺

  7. On my shelf right now is a book called 'The Seven Basic Plots'. I keep meaning to read it but it is 600 pages long, so maybe not that simple! Anyway, as someone said, it's how you tell em ... I like Ann's life analogy too -
    a novel is organic - it will be similar to other organisms.

  8. Hi Susan, agreed, how we "tell 'em" is what makes the difference.

    Hi Ann, but even with science fiction there are plots woven around characters that could have been lifted from any number of stories. The only difference is that they're in the sci fi setting.

  9. Hi Ali, those seven basic plots, according to the Daily Telegraph, are: overcoming the monster, rags to riches, the quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy, rebirth.

  10. It's the human experience expressed according to each particular author's voice that makes the stories seem fresh, not the plot lines, which are pretty much recycled over and over! Like brother vs. brother-- started with Cain and Abel and has been treated in thousands of stories since then. Speaking of which, many of the story lines can be found in the Bible. I think a writer could just read the Bible and find enough plot lines to last a lifetime.

  11. There are no new stories, just an infinite number of ways to tell them. Or so we were taught in media studies. I agree.

  12. I'm in agreement with you Rosalind, no new stories!
    Very interesting post!

  13. I've read somewhere there are only something like seven themes, but it's what we do with those themes that makes our story unique.

  14. Someone (I don't know who) said "All the great ideas were taken by the ancients." When I think I have the world's greatest idea, I tend to discover it's been done a million times. Oh well. On the bright side, I'm not an ancient.

  15. It is very difficult to find something that is completely original. But if the performances are real, and the characters take on certain nuances, even the slightest differences are entertaining. This isn't even an original thought as you and Susan practically said the same thing. Julie


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