YES, your story idea CAN be unique, dammit!

Published by Mallory in the blog Mallory's blog. Views: 106

There's a common type of post that I see frequently that really, really bothers me. It's not a type of thread; rather, it's a type of response often given to developing writers who are still fleshing out their plots and looking for ways to add novelty.

It pisses me off so much to see responses along the lines of "No story idea is truly unique anyway," "Every story idea has been told already, just in a different form," "Everything's just a rehash of something else," etc.

If you are the type who gives these responses, before you zap me with the cattle prod, hear me out. I realize that there are certain structural elements that most stories have in common. For example, most stories have the "motivation point" that causes the MC to step up to the plate and take on whatever role makes him/her the protag. Most stories have a battle/dangerous moment/part where someone dies/etc. Most stories have a tense buildup in the latter half, followed by a climactic sequence and resolution.

But not ALL stories have these, and even if they do, it doesn't mean they can't be unique. That's like saying that no painting can really be unique because they all rely on color patterns. Or that no rock song can be unique because they all (most) contain an electrical guitar riff at some point and because most rock songs have a buildup and a bridge (the bridge is the really intense part about 2/3 of the way through a song). Or that no individual person or animal can be unique because we all have the same biological functions.

We have the writers who paved entirely new genres, and whether or not their work happens to be our cup of tea, we still have to respect them for carving out new territory. Before J.R.R. Tolkien, fantasy was considered solely for children, and was only told in terms of simple folklore and fairy tales. Before S.E. Hinton, realistic young adult fiction didn't really exist, and the only books for teenagers were innocent and sugarcoated (Nancy Drew, the Boxcar Children, etc.) At some point, there was the first mystery novel; the first romance novel; the first horror novel; the first chick lit. Were these all merely spin-offs of other stories, made unique only by the descriptions of places and the names of characters? No. I think not.

Even if you don't pave a new genre, you can still be perfectly unique in whichever area you choose to write. Just because one plot element might be similar to something occurring somewhere else -- i.e. a lot of stories have the element of the protag girl with a crush on a guy friend, or the character archetype of the snooty neighbor/mean popular girl -- it doesn't mean that Story 2 is "just a rehash" of Story 1, or that the plot element will play out in a way even remotely similar to that of the other book.

The only people whose stories aren't unique are the ones who make the conscious effort to comply with "norms" - there should be no such thing as a norm in the world of writing, but many people feel the need to turn other writers' story aspects into set-in-stone precedent, as though we were discussing case law instead of fiction writing. And this brings us to our next topic.

I've noticed that a lot of the people who hand out these "Don't strive for too much novelty, it's all just a rehash anyway" cards are also the ones who say that in order to be published, you have to follow the Cookie Cutter Script. I think you know what I mean by this. The people who cut a certain plot element that they really like, or add a plot element that their story doesn't call for, simply because other successful books happen to have or lack said element. The people who just take published works with a lot of spotlight, like "Twilight" or "LOTR," and retell the exact same story without putting much thought into paving new grounds themselves.

Look, if you want to be a lazy conformist who denies the existence of uniqueness in order to make yourself feel better, fine. But don't shove that mindset -- a nihilistic and anti-individual-potential one -- down the throats of new writers. Some of these writers are young kids, and/or people testing the waters of writing for the first time, still gaining a sense of security in this tough, competitive field. Don't drive them away by sending the message that they have no ability to set new ground.

Most of us writers write because we want to defy the conformity script that other people have described. We want to pave a path rather than follow one. We want to create a world of our own rather than swallow the same rules and norms of everyone else. A writer is supposed to be an individual, and a true individual is not afraid to deviate from standards and light previously unseen sparks.

I cringe to see "writers" who deny this is possible.
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