Writers Writing Nothing New

Writing instructors constantly remind novelists that there is no such thing as a new story. All of them have already been told before. And why should we be surprised by that since there is no new thing under the sun.

A wife lured her husband into grabbing for power. Is that Macbeth or Eve with Adam? An innocent man is kidnapped and thrown in jail. Joseph, or The Count of Monte Cristo?

First, stories happened, then they became a tale someone told.

But why do writers keep on writing if none of the stories are new? I think there are several reasons. For one thing, the particulars of every story change.

The man-versus-man conflict has been told millions of times, for example, but in each one, a man is not murdering his brother. Perhaps he’s selling him to traders instead or setting his field on fire. Maybe he’s stealing the heart of his girlfriend or sleeping with his wife.

There are any number of details that can change — particulars about the characters, the location, the time, the events leading up to the culminating act, the motivation behind it, the resolution, and what it all means.

Writers continue telling stories, in addition, because each one of us adds our own touch. The story, in essence, becomes an expression of us — our personality, our outlook on life.

Painters have not stopped painting mountains because some other artist completed a landscape featuring mountains. Photographers haven’t stopped snapping pictures of sunsets because others before them have taken photos of the sun slipping below the horizon. These visual artists know that no one has captured their subject at that moment, in that way, and from that same perspective as the one presently holding a brush or peering through a lens.

So, too, writers bring their unique selves to each twice-told tale.

J. R. R. Tolkien said that writing is an act of sub-creation. Scripture says Man is made in God’s image. It’s not a stretch, then, to believe that the act of sub-creation is something humans do because of who God made us to be.

A fourth reason writers continue putting out stories even though we understand we are not writing a new thing — society needs them. For one thing, language changes, and some people prefer stories told in the vernacular.

In addition, society forgets. We need stories to remind us that there’s still a Big Bad Wolf in the woods, that a scorpion still stings because that’s what scorpions do.

Our stories anchor us to the truth, but they also serve as beacons looking forward. They fuel our imagination and make us look beyond ourselves. They attach us to one another, though we live across the globe or the galaxy or in a different era or world. They show us our commonalities even as they inform us of our uniquenesses.

Sure, no story is new, but none of them has ever been told in exactly the same way before. So writers keep writing, and readers keep reading.

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Published in: on August 18, 2011 at 5:42 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 Comments

  1. They do.

    And like the beautiful sunset in this particular picture, some writing once again thrills the senses.

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  2. Whenever the Hubble sends back a picture of a new galaxy, its breath-taking to see how unique it is as a whole, not to mention how amazing it must be in its parts. I think writers in heaven will have such unlimited experiences, that there won’t be two books alike.

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