Welcome to Micro Monday, where you get a quote and a writing prompt every Monday to help you build a portfolio of work. This week: originality.
Quote of the Week: “True originality consists not in a new manner but in a new vision.” Edith Wharton
Writing Prompt of the Week: Write for ten minutes about a childhood playmate.
If you’re new to micro and writing with me, check out this post here.
The Seven Wonders of Storytelling
You know the old joke about how there’s really only one fruitcake in the world and it keeps getting passed around? It reminds me of a similar saying about how there are only seven original stories in the world.
That’s right: only seven.
For Christopher Booker, author of The Seven Basic Plots, it looks something like this:
Overcoming the Monster. Also known as good versus evil.
Rags to Riches. From having nothing to getting everything.
The Quest. The classic journey in search of something.
Voyage and Return. Full circle. A take-off of my favorite C.S. Lewis quote about returning to the place where you started and knowing it for the first time.
Comedies. Also known as happily-ever-afters.
Tragedies. The opposite of comedies. Does not tend to end well.
Rebirth. A character is fundamentally changed.
So it would reason that if there are only seven types of stories out there, readers would be getting pretty bored with the same old plot lines. After all, it’s usually clear from the first few pages what kind of story it’s going to be. If you’re a romance reader, you know the heroine’s going to get her man. If you like shoot-’em-up-thrillers, you know the hero is going to save the day. Any character embarking on a quest is going to find what he (or she) is looking for. Good will eventually conquer evil. We know how these stories are going to end and yet we keep reading anyway.
This is good news for anyone who thinks they have a great story in mind. It means that you can reinvent the wheel—you’ll just be putting your own special spin on it. You can make the writing original, even if the story of Romeo and Juliet has been done before, because you’ll do it differently.
Borrow from the Basics
Struggling to come up with an idea for a novel? Borrow a page from the ever-present holiday fruitcake and seek inspiration from an age-old story. Choose from one of these seven original plot lines and see what happens. Why not draw from epics like The Odyssey and write about a cross-country roadtrip (voyage and return)? Or plot a sci-fi thriller that takes place in your hometown (overcoming the monster)? What about a honeymoon gone bad (tragedy) or a heroine abandoned by her cruise ship (comedy)? Or the down-on-his-luck hero who wins big on a game show (rags to riches)?
The bottom line: it’s not so much what you write about, but how you write about it. There’s room for everyone to find their own expression of the same old story and make it into something new."The bottom line: it’s not so much what you write about, but how you write about it. There’s room for everyone to find their own expression of the same old story and make it into something new." – Darien Gee Click To Tweet
If you want to learn more about the most common story archetypes, check out Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots. Ready to put your personal spin on a common tale? Use these tips to practice crafting your original writing voice.
If you have an original take on an old story, share your idea in the comments below. Until next time, write well!
This post originally appeared in Darien’s column, The Writer’s Corner, in North Hawaii News, and has been gently modified for writer-ish.com.