A Truly Original Idea (or is it?)
EXT. GARDEN – DAY.
JAMES walks around his garden pondering his latest creation. An idea comes to him and he rushes to his laptop, but before he can put fingers to the keyboard, the idea is gone. He ponders a little while longer.
Okay, so how about the story of a
poor child who goes on a game show
to try and win money for his thieving
That’s Slumdog Millionaire.
Well how about… a love story between
an 18-year-old girl, a hundred-year-old
guy, and a talking dog?
Fine, well… I could write about… A man
goes to a beach, and he falls in love with
a ball! GENIUS.
My love, that’s Cast Away.
CURSE YOU WILSOOOONNNNNNNN!
JAMES flips the table over with his super strength* and yells so loud the ground vibrates and causes an earthquake in Italy and he storms upstairs.
*because yes, in the film adaptation of my life I have superpowers.
INT. BEDROOM – DAY.
JAMES crying face down into the duvet.
Why can I never come up with any
original ideas? All the best ones are
taken. But it’s okay. I’ll always
have you to support me, won’t I?
TUNNOCKS TEA CAKES
Of course James. We’ll always
be your friends.
I knew I could count on you guys.
JAMES pulls the packet of teacakes closer and goes to hug them.
TUNNOCKS TEA CAKES
Eat us. Eat us. Eat us.
Are you sure? Is that what you
want? What you ALL want?
TUNNOCKS TEA CAKES
Yes James. Eat us. Eat us and
JAMES opens the packet and unwraps each tea cake from their foil. He places each of them in front of him and one by one eats them and their chocolatey, biscuit-y, marshmallow-y goodness.
TUNNOCKS TEA CAKES
Do it James. Join us.
Join us. Joins us.
As JAMES finishes the final tea cake he cramps over and grabs his stomach. A change is beginning. He looks to his hands and a ball of energy emerges from each of them, and suddenly he cramps over as his skin begins to bubble and morph. He is… changing.
JAMES falls to the floor. The room around him burns and he sits up, dazed, and confused. He steadies himself, looks around the room for anything he can recognise. In the corner of the room he spots a mirror. He walks over to it and picks it up. He raises it to his face to discover, HE HAS BECOME A TUNNOCKS TEA CAKE.
CUT TO BLACK
Now, that's not normally how I would picture the story of my life going, but in this time where creativity is needed the most, I've got no choice but to find an original story, even though some might argue that no story is ever original. Christopher Booker wrote a book (believe it or not! It's a good job he became an author and not a Taxidermist, Christopher Taxiderm doesn't have the same ring to it) anyway, he wrote about the 'Seven Basic Plots' for a successful narrative and the more you think about it, every story, ever told, will always stem from these, right? Despite being called 'The Seven Basic Plots' he actually identifies 9:
1. Overcoming the Monster. E.g. War of the Worlds, Dracula, Star Wars
2. Rags to Riches E.g. Aladdin, Cinderella, Ratatouille
3. The Quest E.g. Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Arc
4. Voyage and Return E.g. The Spongebob Squarepants Movie, Onwards
5. Comedy E.g. Bridget Jones's Diary, Dinner For Schmucks
6. Tragedy E.g. Romeo and Juliet, Avengers: Endgame
7. Rebirth E.g. Groundhog Day, A Christmas Carol
8. Rebellion Against 'The One' E.g. Brave New World, 1984
9. Mystery E.g. Sherlock Gnomes, Murder on the Orient Express
And you do see traits of all of these plots in almost every film, books, play, to have ever existed and even we do it: The Den = comedy, TooRaLooRaLum = overcoming the monster, Bloomers = rebirth. But I believe it's a rather pessimistic view of art to say that nothing will ever be original because everything must always follow one of seven plots. I'd argue that even though all stories will in some form derive from this list, a writer's originality will come from combining different elements from each of these plots to create their own truly unique story.
Look at it like a chef. (I've been watching lots of cooking shows since lockdown started so that's the only language I can speak now). Two chefs go into their kitchens to make a lasagne. They both have identical ingredients and equipment, they each know how to make a lasagne and they get to work. Chef A (let's call him Gino) will start by making the bechamel sauce and puts in 50g of parmesan and 10g of nutmeg. Chef B on the other hand (let's call him Jamie) adds 100g of parmesan and 25g of nutmeg. At the end of the day, it's not going to stop it from being a lasagne but maybe Jamie's will be a touch saltier than Gino's, which when you eat the lasagne, it could make it horrible and totally out of balance OR it could just be the saving grace to combat any sweetness held within the dish.
If we were talking about this in terms of being a film, Jamie made Antz but Gino, on the other hand, he's made A Bug's Life! Both of these films are undeniably similar and both fall under the 'Voyage and Return' plot, however, both 'chefs' added different amounts of ingredients. Pixar added a touch more comedy, rags to riches, and rebirth to their bugged blockbuster, whereas Dreamworks combined it with the quest, overcoming the monster and rebellion against the one to make theirs a critter-killing critique's choice. At the heart of it, they're both movies where the main character goes on a voyage and returns with a solution, but they're both still a lasagne... just with insects.
So if you're ever in a bind when you want to write something new, just remember to keep calm, write what you know (or don't know if you're daring) and ignore all of the rules, be brave!
What I'm trying to say is - in a world where you could get bogged down by conforming to genres, plots, stories, and techniques, whatever you choose to make... just don't make Antz.