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Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Greatest Literary Thieves

I’ve always enjoyed coming up with new story ideas and pitching them to my friends. The only downside is none of them are actually new. I sometimes get a response like “That’s been done before.” Technically speaking, every story idea has been done before. Although all writers are told to come up with an original story, there are only so few plots structures (about 7) out there.
 
Given the time, I could point out the similarities between Tangled and Phantom of the Opera. They both contain obsessive parent-figures (Mother Gothel and the Phantom) who kidnap a young girls (Rapunzel and Christine) for their own gain while the handsome young men (Flynn and Roule) comes to the rescue. Have I convinced you yet? I’m not saying that these two stories are by any means identical in plot or in theme, but they have similar elements. There are probably other stories I could list that have these elements as well.
 
David Bevington's The Complete Works of Shakespeare
Overall, it’s not the originality of the story but rather how the story is told. Many of the greatest thieves masters of all literature even borrowed from other works when they created their well-known stories. Many of Shakespeare’s plays were based off other plays or works, including As You Like It, Macbeth, and many of his history plays, just to name a few. Other writers such as C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien were influenced by medieval writings or ancient legends in their fiction. Even Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy had some influences from Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
 
While it may appear that book and film adaptations are merely a recent trend, they are not. Classics borrowed from previous literature and previous literature borrowed from legends and legends borrowed from people. Ultimately, there may be “nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9), and nearly every writer is a thief in some way, whether it be in plot structures, genres, or characters.
 
So what does this all mean for writers today? No work of fiction can ever be 100 percent original, but some pieces may be stellar, even if they do draw from other works. While writer’s shouldn’t copy all the writing trends or create nothing but fan-fictions hoping to be the next Shakespeare, they may retell a story or make references to past works of literature. No writer is the same, and it is his or her voice and writing style that ultimately determines a lasting piece of literature.
 
What are some of your favorite classics that have influence on or are influenced by other works? Are there any recent books you have read that have a well-written, distinct voice?
 
Literary references: David Bevington’s The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Disney’s Tangled, Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera, William Shakespeare’s As You Like It and Macbeth, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the Holy Bible.

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