originality: an original origin story about an original originator

With a title like that, I really set myself up, didn’t I? Well I will spoil the ending now: there’s nothing new under the sun.

Yet one can argue that there are no original stories left to tell, which might be a false idea. In fact, I’d be at least one to argue it. As a writer and a storyteller, it’s my personal quest to tell new and creative stories to capture the thoughts and emotions of an audience. And it may be easy to lose that audience once your story falls under familiar been-there-done-that territory. They start guessing what’s going to happen next or even how it’s going to end. Sometimes, that can actually be a good thing, some people like to try and solve a mystery before it’s revealed. And who doesn’t like a good ending where the guy gets the girl? Or the day is saved? Or justice is served?

Surprisingly, there are quite a few people out there that don’t mind seeing the opposite unhappy or ambiguous ending. But I didn’t come here to talk to you about that. I came to tell you my personal mission in this world of storytelling.

My friend Melissa inspired me once again to think about original stories and in turn made me think of my methods of how I come up with my own stories. In my opinion, a few of those stories I have under lock and key (meaning I’m not sharing them so openly) seem pretty original to me. Even if they aren’t, it’s still new to me and if I hear about it before then, I will tailor it so it at least sounds new.

Black Lightning

When I was a kid, I thought up an action hero who was basically super-powered version of myself, cool twists in the hair included. His superpower was electricity manipulation. Now I know what you’re thinking, they already have a Black superhero who works with electricity: Black Lightning and/or Black Vulcan (who aren’t the same person). At the time, I was aware of them. But this guy was different. My superhero, who I named Laze (I can’t remember why I settled on that name) also traveled via electric hover board. Think of Back to the Future II and the Silver Surfer, which I was a little more familiar with at the time if not inspired by. Well, this Laze character was a doodle I drew for quite a while. Those were good times, making up adventures in my spare time in class, drawing action scenes and making explosion noises that matched my doodles and getting strange looks from my teacher. Good times, indoob. Growing up, I eventually retired him. Then one day, while watching Kids WB, I saw this show:

Imagine my shock, pun unintended. It felt like an idea of mine had been ripped right out of my head and put on TV. What were the chances? Well I later found out that this was yet another comic book hero that predated my inception of Laze. But still, even if it didn’t, I didn’t have the means or connections to get my idea off the ground and to an audience. You have to admit, getting noticed has become easier thanks to the Internet. With the same token, it’s also harder because so many people are on the Internet trying to get noticed.

And thanks to the Internet, ideas are shared faster than ever. So people are making their own short films and playing them on YouTube instead of waiting around for film festivals (which are still going strong). And by no means is this a problem. I’m a little ashamed at myself for not already being on board… but in due time. These people may very well have original ideas that may, in fact, be completely unheard of. And that’s awesome. It’s even better when someone who has a louder voice, or more money, comes along to amplify that original idea. District 9 anyone? The idea of aliens coming to Earth is nothing new. But aliens being shipwrecked and discriminated against? Okay, I don’t know if it’s original, but it’s new to me. But in documentary form? My booty was firmly planted in the seat. Actually, it had been planted long before it was released, but that’s besides the point. An old idea presented in a new or unique way is the point here.

And that’s a method I plan to take. But that’s for the stories I know people sorta know already. Like romantic comedies, for example. There is a formula to it. I don’t want to get into what that is, but if you’ve seen one or two, you’ve seen most of them. Normally, the guy gets the girl despite a bunch of rough patches and wrong turns, whatever or whoever that may be. I do like rom-coms. I have quite a few in my head I’d like to write. I’ll bet a lot of the popular ones were based on real life events, like (500) Days of Summer. Which to me, by the way, also felt like an original story. Or at least told in an original and unique way.

And it’s my personal opinion, that if you are telling a story that is about a true event that happened to you, that may pass as an original story. Not to sound existential, but life is an original story. We may share a lot of the same elements like first loves, tragic losses that lead to dramatic life changes, betrayal of a friend, dark secrets exposed… quick, what movie pops in your mind? What is Death at a Funeral? Probably not, but that movie has a lot of those elements in it.

Anyway, my point is retelling real-life events. Unless I had a biographer, only I would be able to tell my own story. I have an idea of telling a specific event in my father’s life. It has a bit of Tarantino to it, with non-linear storytelling, but it’s a story only my family knows. Telling someone’s whole life story treads a line of original story and biography.

Another idea I have is telling stories about the ancient past. Is it just me, or is history a gold mind for original stories? I’m sitting on story now I can’t wait to map out thanks to countless hours of watching the History Channel. And no, I’m not telling you. Hahah… But knowing history can be a great source for inspiration. Whether you research a documented real life hero or make up your own that could’ve lived in the time of your choosing, that’s up to you. But I don’t think you can ever go wrong sitting around listening to friends and family talk about life and drawing inspiration from them… unless they are a bit senile and it’s really an episode of Monk they thought happened to them. But hey… sounds a bit like how Bubba Ho-tep may have been conceived. Either way, that’s a movie unlike I’ve ever seen or heard.

Lastly, let’s not forget another great source for an attempt at originality: dreams. I thought I may have seen and heard it all… then the best kept secret that ended up being one of the best movies of the summer (possibly the year) came along…

Click to read my review

I only heard a few contend that this movie isn’t as original as it feels. But we can all agree it’s a breath of fresh air. And at the end of the day, I think that’s what a lot of people want… something fresh. Not a remake, reboot, reimagining, sequel, prequel, based on a book/cartoon or a “cover version”. Yet, I would make a case for those, nothing beats a brand new original story… even if it’s not all that original.

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Posted in babbling, movie, story, storytelling, writing
2 comments on “originality: an original origin story about an original originator
  1. I can’t believe you wrote a whole post on originality and didn’t mention “Lost” once! I’ve decided that although it takes a lot of ideas that came before, “Lost” puts them together in a way that is completely original. In fact, I’m currently trying to decide if “Lost” is better than “Star Wars.” Yes, I know: shame on me.

    Like you, I’ve had ideas that either I didn’t know existed in other works or ideas that someone else manifested before I did. This is one of the many reasons I argued that there are no original ideas, just new combinations. Even if something is “new” to you, if it already exists, then it’s just not original (I know — it sucks) because readers/viewers may have been exposed to the other work.

    In any case, it seems like you approach originality as something that happens by way of execution — how the story is told or presented. In that sense, there’s a lot to be explored. And since you’re an original guy, you’ll probably create many great original works 🙂

    • t. sterling says:

      I know, I didn’t mention Lost at all and I think it does fit within the originality realm. I never knew you were such a big fan of Star Wars either. Needless to say, you can see that the Lost writers are also fans of Star Wars. I’m not a huge fan, but I know the story fairly well. Although you caught me off guard when you described Harry Potter and Star Wars, I was totally thinking some superhero movie.

      I thank you for your encouragement. And it’s always been something I strive for, to be original… even if that seems impossible. And if I’m telling a story that has major influences from something else, I would definitely acknowledge it, sorta like how Lost does whenever you see a book flash onscreen or somewhat like Sawyer makes a pop culture reference.

      While I was writing this piece, I was watching a TV show on DVD I thought would be like an idea I had for a similar show/short film. It’s an old show called “Route 66” with two guys traveling all over the country and each episode they have an adventure of some kind in a new town on their travels. Well, I watched the first few episodes and I was a bit bored. Plus, I was checking to see how similar the show actually was to my own ideas. Fortunately, my idea is still safe and I can keep tweaking the ideas until I’m ready to do something with them. I actually did learn some things from the show, and also, now that I’m aware of it, I could pay some homage to it even though I didn’t like it. lol

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August 2010
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