In this day and age of the “next big reboot” and the never-ending string of sequels, I found myself wondering if there was anything new under the sun. According to the panelists at the Writer’s Symposium at GenCon 2016, the answer is a resounding “NO.”
Not what you were expecting? Me neither.
The general consensus was that no matter what creators do, their work will resonate with something that came before simply because so very much has come before. The trick, then, is not to struggle to come up with something truly unique, but to find ways to give the impression of newness to your readers. Writers should use the filter of their own experiences to add depth and idiosyncrasies to their stories and characters. The newness is in the details that a good writer can bring to the same-old, same-old.
Remember, ideas are not the same as plots.
You could give 100 writers the same idea as a starting point and you would still get 100 different stories. You could even give 100 writers the same first chapter and set of characters and there would be a huge variety of tales to be spun. I’ve talked to a few writers who have gotten discouraged because they read a blurb in a bookstore and think “Oh no! That is the book that I’m writing!” But there is no way that other person’s imagination would put the same characters in the same string of situations and resolutions. Our imaginations are just too big for that.
They say the devil is in the details, and so is your own unique voice. Sure, people talk about “voice” when it comes to word choices or the particular flare of characters or prose, but the author’s true voice is in the answers to her own questions. Writing a novel is like having a long string of decisions to make, and each writer is going to make different decisions that then ricochet off and create another set of decisions and so on. Asking yourself “what’s the next question I need to answer?” gets you to those details that makes your world and your work unique.
Everything Old is New Again
The more traditional notion of voice applies as well. If you can take an old trope and tell it from a different point of view, put it in a different setting which in turn alters the language, add or subtract descriptions to change the ambiance or some other alteration of the tone, these will also aid the feeling of newness. Coming up with something unique doesn’t mean you can’t write what you love, it just means you need to find a way to make what you love YOURS.
Some people might find the idea that there truly is nothing “new” under the sun discouraging, but personally, I find it liberating. If I don’t have to spend the energy worrying that my story ideas aren’t totally unique, it frees my mind to concentrate instead on making all of those tiny decisions that will make my work special. No one can tell your stories better than you because they are YOUR stories. Own it.