Like most writers, I have a small cadre of faithful proof-readers who are willing to battle their way through a Second Draft of one of my thrillers, hunting down any typos, missing punctuation, and plot points that just don’t work. Often, as they see I do listen to them, they proffer comments about the book’s theme. When I sent out the draft of ‘the CULL’, I was surprised that several of their observations coincided. They were all along the lines of “Not another bloody vampire novel. There’re thousands of them out there already. Can’t you write something more original?”
That got me thinking…
What is originality?
I learnt to read at an early age (dinosaurs had become extinct the week before) and proceeded to devour every book I could lay my hands on from that point onward. I’ve tried to work out just how many I’ve read but the nearest I can get is that the figure must be close to 10,000! Yes, that’s an average of four a week, for XX years. There have been peaks and troughs of course, but the prodigious amount of travelling I used to do provided me with plenty of dead time in airports and on planes. I know that over 30 years ago, when I moved from the UK, I had over 4000 books in my house at that moment, and I’d read them all, so the figure is probably reasonably accurate. Why the math lesson?
When I discovered the adventure of reading novels, it didn’t take me too long to conclude that there was an infinite amount of tales that could be told on the written page. Years went by, and I revelled in the prospect of opening a book and being plunged into yet another original story.
Then it happened. I read a magazine article where an author of a ‘how to be a writer’ book stated that there were only 20 plots! Wait a mo’. Surely, with the frenetic page turning I’ve indulged in, I must have read many repetitions of the same story and realised this a long time ago?
Then I did a little digging.
In 1959, William Foster-Harris, albeit in a comic-vein, said there were only two: Happy and Unhappy (what happened to the other five dwarves?). Joseph Campbell in 1949 said there was only one: the famous Hero’s Journey concept. Other writers have conceded there may be more; the largest figure I could find was 37! (George Polti’s 36 plus the one added by The Stumper’s Archive). Now if you multiply this by the two dozen or so genres we have today, you get 888, a nice lucky number if you’re Chinese. Continuing with the math lesson, that means that, as I am an eclectic reader, I must have read the same plot in any given genre at least 11 times over the years!
Now, I have a rather quirky memory, a bane rather than a blessing, I can assure you; I remember everything I read. I can guarantee that if I had read the same tale 11 times (or even twice) I would recall it.
So exactly what is originality? I don’t think it’s about plot. I think the devil is in the details. For reasons too complex to go into here, I decided the vampires in my novel were going to be the product of accelerated genetic evolution, basing this on the huge number of scientific papers I read; Hell, they don’t even have fangs! For me, that’s where originality kicks in: taking an old theme and adding a new twist.
Now, the rant! I just read that Hollywood is going to remake ‘Jumanji’. Okay, the original movie from 1995 was entertaining, but a remake? So soon? It gets worse: 2009 – ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ (great film!) remade by Hollywood two years later (not so great). I know America has to redo non-American successes in their own image, it’s part of their identity crisis (Hell, there’s even talking about a ‘Downton Abbey’ remake) but that film didn’t even change the location – just new actors. And I won’t even discuss ‘Sherlock’/’Elementary’ (although they are both good, each in their own way).
Hollywood! Wake up! You want original material?
There are thousands of Indie writers out here, producing exceptionally good, original stories. Many would make outstanding movies, without having to break the budget. I’m sure I would be only too happy to receive a (not too) small fee and a share of the profits in exchange for allowing Hollywood to take one of my thrillers and turn it into a Box Office success.
You too, right?