So I was talking to a friend and she was saying something about this story she’d come up with, story X, in which Y and Z happened. And I’m like- that sounds cool. And she says, Yeah, a friend of mine said it had already been done so I never did get around to doing anything with it.
Man, I can’t tell you how much I hate that. Does that happen to you? You get excited about an idea you want to flesh out and you start to bounce it off someone else and their very first response is: well, that’s already been done.
Dude. Duuuuh. What hasn’t already been done?
This is, of course, why one of my favorite movies lines ever is Christian Slater in Pump Up TheVolume telling us that “we’re in the middle of a like, totally wasted decade…all the great themes have been used up–turned in to theme parks.”
That’s always my response.
I mean, how unhelpful is that? And I guess part of what ticks me off about it is that it seems to me that the person for whom this is a reasonable first response seems to think that they’ve read just about everything worth reading and now there’s nothing new under the sun for them. When the truth of it is that they obviously haven’t read nearly enough because otherwise they’d grasp how much of literature is all about building on old ideas, old stories, old themes.
So Shakespeare says to his friend: I’ve got this great I idea for a play where these kids from rival families meet, but their families are feuding, see, so even though they’re obviously meant to be together, they can only meet in secret–
Hey, that sounds familiar, isn’t that from that Italian poem–
Yeah, yeah, sure, but listen, would you? It’s got a lot of potential as a play. So anyway, the kids can’t be together and there’s a bunch of stuff that goes on in the middle and they get married in secret. Then, at the end–and you can tell Bill’s getting really excited about the project now–the heroine has to play dead so that her family can bury her and then she can sneak off to be with the hero. So she drinks this potion to make her look dead. Only the hero doesn’t get the message about it and thinks she really is dead so he buys poison, goes to her tomb, and offs himself.
Oh, man, that sucks!
Yeah, right? And listen, so the the heroine wakes up and finds the hero dead. And the poison’s all gone, so she takes his daggar and stabs herself.
Well yeah, man, that’s dramatic and stuff, but aren’t there a bunch of other stories like that? Like Tristan and Iseult and Pyramus and Thisbe… I think there’s a bunch of other stories like that out there.
Yeah, I guess you’re right. Guess I’ll just dump Romeo and Juliet in the idea file for now. Maybe I’ll be able to use a part of it for something else someday.
[For more information, visit your local library or read the wiki on Romeo and Juliet.]
All I’m sayin’ is that just because the ideas like ill-fated lovers and hey! the other guy’s not really dead yet! had already been used a few times doesn’t mean the idea for Romeo and Juliet didn’t have some merit. Just because someone’s already done something doesn’t mean you can’t do it differently and have it be something great.
I mean, really, imagine if Colin Firth was all like: you want me to do what?? I’m not going to play Mr. Darcy after Laurence Olivier. You have to be out of your ever-lovin’ mind!
What a tragedy that would have been, huh? So I repeat: Just because someone’s already done something, doesn’t mean you can’t do it differently and have it be something great.
This is a topic I could go on about all day but I need to get some work done, so I’ll try to hit you over the head with my point just one more time. Am I saying that markets don’t get saturated with a million stories about the same thing and I get sick to death of reading them? No, that happens and I do. Am I saying that new ideas have no value? Please, don’t be obtuse. Fresh, new, original ideas are [enter a string of superlatives] fantastic. And rare. What I’m saying is that it’s ok if everything you come up with doesn’t fall into that category. You tell it your way, and it can be something great.
And if you’ve got a friend who’s reaction to your excited ideas seems to always be Yawn, been there, done that, find yourself another sounding-board.