Storylines, how original are they really?

Ever since our ancestors began telling stories over the fire at night, different storytellers have tended to repeat the same storyline, believing their version to be original. 

Over the last few weeks I have come across at least two examples while trawling the blogosphere. One that immediately springs to mind concerns a fantasy storyline about a pack of rats who live beneath a city. As far as I’m aware this particular story idea was first realized by Hilary Wagner in her excellent tale “Nightshade City”, published last year. Imagine my surprise when a similar rat tale appeared this year by another author based in Scotland.
Yesterday, while once again trawling, I saw a new Sci-Fi novel being advertised called “Green Mars” by Kim Stanley Robinson which bore a remarkable resemblance to a short story I had recently written in the last couple of weeks called Beta 1.
Both my story and Robinson’s spoke of the same basic premise, Earth becoming one giant corporation, people being sent, in my case, or people in Robinson’s case volunteering to colonise Mars etc, etc. Both Robinson and myself explored the same story idea, each of us unaware of the other.  
Is there such a thing as an original story idea these days? I believe the answer is no.

7 thoughts on “Storylines, how original are they really?

  1. A few years ago I wrote a treatise on this topic. It was basically asking the question, is there originality left, given the (literally) millions of published stories in existence.The answer is yes: for two reasons.1. There are still original stories being produced, per se. Few and far between, but there are.2. I redefined 'original' and challenge if anyone really has thought about it any case – in detail.I will concentrate on the second point.I think we are too strict with the term 'original'. In my mind it is a combination of plot, characterization, theme and style. People use the word "fresh" when in my mind it may as well be original. I recall a while ago where someone tried to define science fiction plots – categorize them. I forget the way it was split up, but you can imagine – alien encounter, marooned, etc etc. You can narrow it to about half a dozen. I would suggest that if this was the basis of originality, then nothing has been written that is original probably from about…hmm…600 AD? So it is a matter of detailing further – the question then is, how far? Where do we draw the line? I suspect it is largely undefinable.Let's look at Vampire stories. Bram Stoker wrote a classic, and in a fascinating way (diary entries). He was not original, but a Vampire story was written before (Varney the Vampire – a Penny Dreadful several decades before). In very basic terms it was about a powerful being who is being hunted by do-gooders, and where this being falls in love with one of the do-gooders. Sheesh – now that's a storyline that has been repeated throughout history. And yet, Dracula was – is – original. With the plethora of Vampire stories out today, I can categorically say (without having read them) that the vast majority are shit and unoriginal. But there will be fresh ones amongst them. Sorry to be pedantic, mate – I suspect you were thrown a 'curve ball' using an Americanism, with your recent observations. I think you are too harsh and in fact there's plenty of originality out there, and God knows I read a lot of it from you 🙂


  2. There's supposedly only seven story types in the world, and any story out there will fall into one or more of these categories. How a writer handles their story with regards to these categories defines how original the story will be.The pack of rats story, interestingly, reminds me of the Depford Mice trilogy by Robin Jarvis. It's about a group of mice traveling through the countryside to the city and fighting a pack of rats. It was pretty good if i remember rightly, although I read it in about 1997.Good post!


  3. Another 'coincidental' theme that immediately springs to mind are stories written about rabbits. Enid Blyton wrote about Peter Rabbit. Before her and long since, many Rabbit stories have been written, most dealing with a Rabbit having to escape peril in one form or another.


  4. I would have to say…yes, I do think there is originality. The basic premises may be the same, but the visions of the writers are what makes it different.I had someone read a story of mine and after the first couple of chapters, he complained that it was too much like Star Wars because it was about an evil empire. Okay. The concept of fighting evil is not a new or original one. It's as old as the first story ever told over a campfire. To claim that it's like something else because the basic premise, of fighting an evil empire is the same, does not make it the same. Of course, I didn't say that and was polite and thanked them for their input, but really…


  5. Funny Scifi Worlds, I was accused of much the same thing with my Sci-Fi Space Opera "Onet's Tale" by a bunch of criticasters on an open forum. Turned out all they had read was the free chapter. I agree with you Scifi Worlds when you say – "but really…" 🙂


  6. My mind is stuck running in a great circle, much as a dog chasing its tail.Tennyson's 'Charge of the Light Brigade' flows in that circle as I gobble each line in succession. 600 men accidentally ride into forever.Leonidas and 300 other Spartans and a thousand or so Greeks hold a little pass for three days and die into history at the pass of Thermopylae. It gets gobbled up as I run past it in the great circle of my mind.An article saying the fanaticism of the Amazon warrior may have historical roots and Homer didn't make up Troy which the Amazons helped defend. It is in my path and is grabbed as I run by.The Last Samurai, a fanciful movie with enough historical content, twisted and changed, yet grabbing, is consumed by my circle as well.Somewhere in that distorted place I call a mind they were digested. Consumed and regurgitated as my book.Even the 'my circle' idea is someone elses. I often believe there really isn't such a thing as originality, only old thoughts shuffled and placed in a new order and called 'original'. However one definition of it is: The capacity to act or think independently. I guess the rearrangement is in fact an independent act and thus is 'original' so this is all totally irreverent


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