It's said there are no new stories. It's a truth that all writers must face at one time or another; that is, if you're going to be any good. Our job is to wrap an old story in the package of our own perceptions well enough that the story seems fresh, all while doing so without letting the reader know that's what you're doing. That is the writer's challenge. Hense, many writers hate plot, because everything that has happened, everything, has gone before. That's why good stories are "character driven," because, dude, I've heard that one about the unlikely hero who is fighting against impossible odds. Only last time he was a wizard. This time she's an assassin? Oh, and one's coming out soon where they're twins. Also hense, this is why writers hate cliches, because like plot, they make us feel woefully inadequate. It's already been said so well before. Why even try? sob.
Writers struggle with these things because they challenge our very humanistic instincts about our own orignality. We want to believe that we have something new to offer. But face it. We don't. The universe is Same Shit, Different Day (SSDD is my favorite cliche). I mean, whether it's with words or swords or with atom bombs or with computers, the human race has always revolved around an endless war over survival and power and knowledge. But we're still pretty inadequate and cliche ourselves. We still don't know where we go when we die. Iraq is nothing new. Hate George Bush? How original. Nobody ever hated a rich, pig-eyed ruler before. People have gotten rich and starved and fallen in love and died and had babies and made war for centuries upon centuries upon centuries. You think you can compete with that? Well, writers do; every day.
We've been talking a lot lately about deep, philosophical issues which largely revolve around that which we do not and cannot know. But never forget what you do know; the power and grace of your own personal perceptive filter. It's what makes us human, more than any other facet of what we are. We do have to go through phases I think: times of alternately proving or disproving the validity of our own filters while accepting that we are living the same lives over and over. Rectifying the two can be frustrating and dangerous and enlightening. But it's usually, and often unfortunately, easy to see where a writer is in this struggle.
We've all read them: stories that seem self-conscious of their tired plot. The writer is hit with this bombshell and then for some reason, becomes insecure with his own filter. To me, The DaVinci Code is that way. I think Dan Brown became suddenly uncomfortable with the fact that his story had been told before, and so he cloaked it in a constant stream of knowledge--a purposeful, pretentious overlay of his own filter. The prequel, Angels and Demons, is a better story, and I think it's because he's so much less self-conscious in it. His filter is there, and he knows it, but he accepts the blend better. The plot is no less trite, but for some reason Dan Brown seems to have gotten a little freaked when he wrote The Code. (It is easy to get freaked when writing the second book in a series; or, well, you know, so I've heard.) The impression that he was in the throes of denial that his plot was not original (in fact, it largely duplicated the plot of his previous, better book) sang louder than the story and characters themselves. Brown's struggle was so present in his own words that it made them difficult to appreciate in their own right. I mean, come on, we all know it's Indianna Jones all over again. But I hope he realizes that we like Indianna Jones. We like the guy who knows so much that he gets himself into tough spots. (Gazillions of dollars later, I guess he probably knows. But hopefully he's comfortable enough with it to write something else that frees him to write like in Angels in Demons.)
Why did he not reach fame and fortune until The Code? Cuz the second and third books sell the first. I've always said my second book would sell my series. I always thought it was because it's a better book (it is), but actually it's simple marketing (or lack thereof). It's been this way for time immemorial. But I digress.
(All of that said, yeah, I know all about the "controversy" surrounding the Code. Whatever. Even so, it's not that great a story, and the controversy itself has been rehashed ad nauseum for centuries.)
Writing means facing a lot of demons, most of which have to do with that we are pea-sized and pea-brained little bits of fluff in a giant, king-sized mattress. I wrote someting to that effect recently, a couple of posts ago. I wrote:
I'm getting potent, valuable clues that I'm a cog, a peg (often square in a round hole, of course) in this life and that I'm comfortable with that.
Funny how at the time I didn't realize what that really meant, but today I do.
There are two loathesome things which remind us of how cliche and trite we writers and humans really are (sometimes I think I'm two different species in one body): writing synopsises, and being asked "What's your story about?"
The synopsis requires a basic plot outline, that, when done right, tells which story this is: "boy meets girl, hates girl because he loves girl", or "specks of humanity fighting against an impossible monster", et cetera. But the good ones tell why that particular storyteller is qualified to retell this old story. The good ones touch on character and theme, without really bringing them to light.
As for being asked what MY story is about; this is my standard line: "A present- day adult fantasy in which twin college guys fight a demon."
Sounds utterly new and fascinating, huh?