Do you ever play the guessing game when watching your favorite TV show? Do you try to predict who the killer is or who is having an affair before the stars come back from the next commercial break? While a good show will keep its viewers guessing right up to the very end, there are actually a finite number of variables the writers have to work with. While there are a very large number of possible outcomes to any scenario, there are only so many choices to be made without becoming predictable, or being compared to a show on another channel.
Everything old becomes new again.
After all, who wants to be accused of copying someone else’s ideas? It’s said that there are no original story ideas left, and that every plot, every story, is a repetition of something that’s been done before, many times. It’s true there are trends in media and in literature; there are certain subjects that enjoy such popularity that they are omnipresent, if only for a short while.
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For example, Zombies are really popular right now. You can watch them on multiple TV channels and at the box office. You can read about them in all types of books or shoot them in a number of video games. You can even buy tee-shirts depicting the best way to survive a zombie apocalypse (my son has one). Zombies are not really a new idea. The “undead hordes” have been popular for multiple generations, and are close cousins with the old-fashioned victims of voodoo curses of past plotlines.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The fact is, certain story ideas are timeless, and I don’t just mean those that involve time travel, another popular trend that sees a resurgence every few years. From Orson Wells’ machine to alien time lords, we have long been enamored by the concept of changing the past or previewing the future early. Whether an adventurer faces prehistoric monsters or futuristic mutants, or simply has the opportunity to right a terrible wrong, we will tune in each week or turn the pages to see history as it is remade to a writer’s whim.
There is nothing new under the sun. It has all been done before.
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Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic character Sherlock Holmes, written in the late 19th century, features a famous detective and his veteran-doctor companion. Almost every school child is familiar with Doyle’s works, and not just because it’s required reading in literature. Sherlock is still as vital today as he was in 1890, thanks to imitation ranging from a Disney mouse detective to a plethora of movie adaptations. (Of course, in my opinion the best of these is from the BBC/Masterpiece show titled simply “Sherlock” which is finally back for its fourth season, and stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.)
An idea may not be completely original, but that doesn’t always mean it’s familiar to us. An enterprising writer can take an old idea and reshape it in such a way that its feels brand new. In the end, what matters most to us regarding our TV/movie/literature characters and plots is that we are entertained.
So the next time you indulge in watching or reading, consider-does the plot seem familiar? Does the writer keep you guessing, or are there enough clues provided that you can determine the ending? Does your enjoyment come from suspense, or the familiarity of a favorite theme? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
I leave you with one more of mine-even if an idea is not original, each new generation can provide an audience to hear and see it for the first time, and an interpreter to retell a story in an entirely new manner.
Thanks for reading,