I love my pal, Kate Naylor’s guest post on machine-generated fiction. It got me thinking about a claim I’ve heard many times and which I believe. There aren’t any new stories, just new ways to tell them.
To test that claim, I did what any scientific researcher would do. I googled “are there any new stories”. The first hit was a 2007 post on a blog titled Writing Forward by Melissa Donovan, author of 101 Creative Writing Exercises. While I haven’t read her book, I am borrowing from her post. Here’s how she makes the point.
Look at this way: everything already exists. The ideas, plots, characters — they’re already out there in someone else’s story. Originality isn’t a matter of coming up with something new, it’s a matter of using your imagination to take old concepts and put them together in new ways.
To test this theory, see if you can guess the following famous story:
A young orphan who is being raised by his aunt and uncle receives a mysterious message from a stranger, which leads him on a series of great adventures. Early on, he must receive training to learn skills that are seemingly superhuman. Along the way he befriends loyal helpers, specifically a guy and a gal who end up falling for each other. Our young hero is also helped by a number of non-human creatures. His adventures lead him to a dark and evil villain who is terrorizing everyone and everything that our hero knows and loves — the same villain who killed his parents.
If you guessed that this synopsis outlines Harry Potter, then you guessed right. But if you guessed that it was Star Wars, you’re also right.
I rest my case. The important point is that everyone knows Harry Potter and Star Wars but we don’t know the countless other authors that have used the same template to write forgettable and unreadable versions of the same story.
The writer’s challenge is to make a familiar story new, different and exciting. The writer may tell it in a different voice, set it in a different place or give it a different twist. But none of that will make it sing if the writer doesn’t tell it well, with heart, passion and creativity and that’s the province of the soul, not a machine.
A very Happy New Year to you all
Image source: Amelia-Jane
It all depends on what one means by story. Certainly it’s standard practice to used one of that old list of basic plots to build a piece of fiction around. In fact the true difference between great writers who are artists and authors of genre fiction may well be that very question.
I am reading Murakami’s 1Q84 right now. There is no story that comes close to it anywhere. The same can be said for Infinite Jest, Gravity’s Rainbow, Amy Hempel’s micro-stories and the new collection of stories by George Saunders, Tenth of December. The list of unimaginably creative stories goes on forever. So does the list of work that was either influenced by or “based on” other work.
I wish people would read more good literature. The world is an open place where freedom finds itself in nooks and crannies of art. It’s all good…except when it’s bad.
Well said. I read a review of a new short story collection, Vampires In The Lemon Grove by Karen Russell, that may well also make your point. I’m adding it to my reading list.