No matter how fresh you think your plot is, it’s probably been done before. In “All that jazz”, there’s a wonderful dance number to the song “Everything Old is New Again” or – as Ecclesiastes put it: “There is nothing new under the sun!”
A plot may be old, but you can still handle it with a fresh approach.
Some writers have amused themselves by listing “all possible plots”. If something on the list sparks your own thinking, that’s not necessarily bad. You can use it as a jumping-off point to think about your individual characters and their individual situations. Let’s say John decides he wants something. It could be a woman, a job, a million dollars, revenge, a cure for cancer, to be left alone. He sets out to get it, encountering obstacles along the way. Eventually he overcomes them, gets his desire and retires from the battlefield satisfied. This is a “plot skeleton” that fuels much commercial fiction. Danielle Steel’s heroine always gets the right man; James Bond always vanquishes the spy from the other side. Luke Skywalker defeats the evil Empire. Readers all crave heroes.
Sometimes John loses, and maybe he deserves to lose. Defeat rises to the level of tragedy. This is what keeps readers returning for centuries to tales of total loss like “The Trojan Woman” and “Romeo and Juliet”; or a contemporary example is “The English Patient.” Sometimes John’s defeat isn’t total – he loses his major desire, but gains something in compensation – maybe better, or contentment or some abstract quality of wisdom.
The winning by losing plot is appealing because it gives us hope. You can come up with many different variations, and although it is as old as time, it never loses its appeal.
2 thoughts on “Haven’t We Met Before?”
“It seems to me I’ve heard this song before…. Though I can’t remember where or when…”
Excellent post. I recently launched a new children’s book where I remastered two old folktales and then introduced the two very different main characters to each other to create a new story with a twist of fate. I called it “A Tale of Two Biddys.” One way of taking something old and making something new. Love your blog.