Where do stories come from? And how original is original?
I’ll answer the second question first, then the first question second, and hopefully, that might answer both together.
Warning – This post will contain the word “original” a few times more than the word “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”.
In today’s world, with over 7 trillion people all coming up with ideas every day, how can you make an original story work for even a minuscule percent of those people? That question can be for movies, books, scientific discoveries or even blogs.
The answer: there is no original story or plot, just the way you tell it. Take the 1939 movie, Wizard of Oz, for example. There have been so many adaptions, parodies, animations, TV and theatre productions you’d have to see the Wiki for the extensive list.
I’m choosing this story because most people have either seen or heard of The Wizard of Oz or a reference somewhere, like parodies in The Simpsons. With such an old story going back to the 1900 children’s story, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, it makes it easier to find adaptions I can talk about. All in all, there were fourteen books written by L. Frank Baum between 1900 and 1920.
Return to Oz (1985) – I am pushing my memory to remember this movie, but this was the first major revamp of the original story. Some of the content in this movie comes from the third book, Ozma of Oz and the seventh book, The Patchwork Girl of Oz.
Return to Oz was an original movie, but it was carved from other stories. Does this make it original though?
Wicked (The stage musical) – Most people know of the stage show Wicked from 2003 onward, adapted from the novel written by Gregory Maguire. Set before The Wizard of Oz, written as a prequel and ties into the events of the first book from a different point of view. It uses the same setting, showing the development of the good and evil characters leading up to and including Dorothy’s actions on the world.
Is it an original idea if Maguire uses another person’s product (even though the books are public domain, but the movies aren’t)?
Oz The Great and Powerful – (I have to say it needs a comma) This movie, as much as it might tussle with copyrights, is an adaption of the novel, Wicked, even though it’s set 20 years before the first book. I don’t feel this story is very original, but, once again, what’s original?
If you break the Wizard of Oz down far enough, it is just a story of someone taken from their comfort zone and forced to find their way back. How many stories can you think follows this plotline? It’s a basic plot design you find in other stories.
The Wizard of Oz covers adaptions, but what about a complete ripoff?
William Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet during the 1590s, and over the centuries, the premise has been repeated so many times it’s impossible to count.
Written long before the copyright laws came into existence, all of Shakespeare’s works are now in the public domain. So when in 1996, Baz Luhrmann moved the same events to modern times and included guns, the moviegoers got to see Shakespeare again, it probably was time for a fresh revision of the original story. But do guns and cars instead of knives and horses make it fresh and new? Well, it has a 60-70% approval rating depending on the critic site you look at, so I guess most people who have rated it think so.
Adaptions, ripoffs, what’s next? Original stories? Let’s dive into something completely different.
In 1979, Ridley Scott released Alien to the cinemas. It did a great job of scaring popcorn down people’s shirts in most countries. Let’s break down the originality of this movie in a simple way.
This will contain minor spoilers if you haven’t seen it.
The characters start happy and jovial, then the inciting incident puts the story into a gradual slip then fall toward the end of the movie. It finishes with a minor victory that leaves the audience with the struggle and pain of the main character.
This seemingly original story still follows the same structure as most others in the horror genre. Most of the junk coming from the movie studios these days follow this very format, with one main character surviving to the end. Now don’t get me wrong when I say this, Alien is not the usual cut down, slasher flick because of the way it was told, compared to the movie’s release date. Before Alien, there weren’t many science fiction movies with horror as a sub-genre, especially with that sort of budget.
When you look at the brief I just laid out, that story has been told thousands of times before with vampires, zombies, a group holding up a bank, or that love story (with or without the horrific death of characters, depending on the story I guess).
It doesn’t matter if it’s for science, science fiction, non-fiction or parts of your own life; there is no such thing as an original idea. Every idea is an amalgamation of old ideas someone has had before.
There is no such thing as an original story, only how original you tell it.
Basically, all stories can be broken down inside the story structures of:
The Hero’s Journey
The [Dan Harmon’s] Story Circle
The Fichtean Curve
Save the Cat
The Seven-point Story Structure
This list might seem confusing to some and simple to others, but when you dive into how these work, they all have the rise and falls, inciting incident, the height of the story and conclusion in one direction or another.
A few months back, someone told me, if you break down stories far enough and make them as raw basic as possible, the simplest story structure contains someone coming or someone going.
So the real question is, how original is your idea?
I think originality comes from the heart and not so much from the mind. Did you come up with a different way to say something, or is it plagiarism?
Originality can come from many sources. These are a few ideas that came to me as I was writing this blog.
The three little pigs crossed with Pride and Prejudice, but with vampires in space;
Elvis impersonators travelling through time and written by a third person (like The Great Gatsby).
Adding a different twist on the end of an old story could give you a new and original story, even if the concepts have been reused since Neanderthals started forming a language.
After all that, the question remains, are you fulfilling the readers’ expectations?
I hope after all that, it answers the first question.
I used a few resources to contribute to this blog, so I’d like to mention that here. Wiki articles were confirmed by other non-listed sites. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oz_the_Great_and_Powerful https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adaptations_of_The_Wizard_of_Oz https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L._Frank_Baum https://oz.fandom.com/wiki/L._Frank_Baum https://www.empireonline.com/movies/features/10-oz-adventures-wizard-oz-emerald-city/