Thursday, October 27, 2011

Spin City

19th century humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw once said, "About the most originality that any writer can hope to achieve honestly is to steal with good judgment."

Ain't that a fact.

Even Hollywood, with an army of writers and directors and creators and producers, can't seem to come up with anything original anymore. All the really, truly, genuinely unique plots and concepts have apparently been exhausted. I have no idea what they're gonna do once they run the superhero genre into the ground like an overworked racehorse.

But I digress . . .

Writers of fiction sit in a whirlwind of ideas. We can pluck any one of them out of the air, and one can bet, dollars to donuts, that someone, somewhere, at some point, has beaten us to the punch and used that idea already. All we can do is take that idea and put a whole new twist to it. The fiction art has been reduced to producing twists rather than new ideas.

A World War II novel? Already been done. But what if mutant turnips took over Nazi Germany and threatened to destroy humanity altogether, and mankind's only hope was to put aside their differences and band together? Hmm . . . The turnip part may be a bit over the top, but the rest of it? It could go somewhere.

But I still think there's hope. Reality is not restricted by the limitations of our feeble mortal minds. Reality is an unending source of events we could never dream up on our own. It's packed with idea sources for storytellers. The one catch is that the adage, "Truth is stranger than fiction" holds true. Sometimes things happen in real life that would never work in fiction because it just isn't believable. Life is full of coincidences. Fiction has little or no tolerance for coincidences.

So is it worth the pain to sweat and agonize over what is ultimately a different spin on a hackneyed plot? I think so. More often than not, people will recognize that they've read or watched this story somewhere before and bemoan the lack of originality these days. But when we writers manage to disguise the story in twist and spin and angle until the reader sees a rare gem rather than old clothes, the sense of accomplishment outweighs the disappointment.

So, failing originality, I'll settle for spin.

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