writing

Same Old Story…

Once-Upon-A-Time-writing-22074099-450-300This autumn, I’ve started teaching a writing class. It’s all very exciting and has made me think about the process of writing properly for the first time ever, because how can I teach people how to do it if I don’t understand it myself? So I know more about plotting and characters and how to put a story together than I ever have before. Another great thing about teaching is when my students share their ideas with me. One of them told me all about her characters and setting and when I said I thought it was brilliant, she sighed and said, “It’s shame someone has already written about it.”

The problem with writing stories is that there are no new ideas – everything has already been done. Some people even say that there are only seven original plot ideas (and some people say there are only five!) and if you agree with that, it’s quite hard to make sure your story is totally different to anything anyone has written before. But what if J K Rowling had thought about that when she was starting Harry Potter? Hers certainly wasn’t the first book about a school for witches and wizards (although it’s definitely the first to feature Quidditch) but it still seemed very fresh and new when it burst onto the scene. So I think the trick to writing an amazing story is all about how you tell it – it’s all about finding your own voice. If you tell your story in a way no one else can, that’s what makes it unique.

I told my student not to worry about the other book with the same idea, because the way she wrote it would be different. I think one of the best things about writing is being able to put a little bit of myself into each book. What do you think?

12 thoughts on “Same Old Story…

  1. You are so right, Tamsyn. That 7 (or 5) basics plots thing has always annoyed me a little. It’s probably true-ish but not very useful info for a writer. Certainly not encouraging, anyway. Better to think that there are as many plots and characters and ‘inciting incidents’ as there are people on the planet and it’s all about the nuance and, as you so rightly put it, the voice. I wish I was on your course. Cx

  2. So many people DO write the same old stuff as everybody else, though. I guess maybe they’re too influenced by others and don’t really have the hang of at least putting their own original spin on things?

  3. An interesting blog, Tamsyn. I think many stories echo other stories, and you’re right that it’s not the ‘copying’ that’s the issue, it’s the originality of voice. Take ‘Jane Eyre’- both ‘Rebecca’ and more directly ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ echo Bronte’s classic, yet both are brilliant books in their own right.

  4. True, Emma!

    Did you know that we’ve used the same idea in our own books, by the way? I have a ghost who drowned when he fell through a frozen lake in My So-Called Phantom Lovelife, and you have one in Frost Hollow Hall, but the stories are quite different 🙂

    • Gosh, I’d no idea! I’ve just googled your book and the main character’s called Owen too- my husband’s name. Small world! Just goes to prove the point!

      • It does! I didn’t realise until I got my copy of Frost Hollow Hall last week. Great minds think alike – and then do something quite different with the idea (unless you snuck in some ghostly kisses too?).

        The name thing is a funny coincidence!

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