“The moon was a witness….”
I was working with an editor, a friend who was a professional at a publishing house. He was reading through my writing. Novel curiosity turned into an enthusiasm, a belief in the book I thought only I, as the author, would ever really feel. He offered to edit it free of charge, that’s how much he enjoyed it.
How could I say no? I was absolutely flattered that someone ‘in the business’ would be willing to work on it, it was more than just an enjoyment of the effort, it was a willingness to invest his time and knowledge.
A few times he mentioned my originality. This always rubbed me at least an itch. I would modestly deflect any praise and deny that I was anything special. I began to believe it might just be that he had never read the same authors I read. I am absolutely certain some of my influences come out screaming, I get pretty close to that line sometimes, too, between trying to write a song reminiscent of your favorite singer, and blatantly stealing their hook.
I was sure if he read certain early 1960’s science fiction he would see the basic structure and scaffolds of the words I had presented him. I was pretty certain he would see it as a rip off, a fake.
We talked and I learned he was impressively well read, and still he insisted that my work was uniquely original, unlike anything else he had ever read.
And that’s when I told him, I don’t believe in originality.
I don’t think it really exists, not anymore anyway. Every story has been told, everything has been done. Everything imaginable under the sun, all the shadows have been overturned, the moon was a witness to it all.
I think there are about twelve people. Total. There are only actually twelve real people and they are reflected back at us from various directions. The whole world, forever, has just been the same twelve people interacting and intertwining. And I figure there are only eleven different stories for them to convey. Names were changed and locations kept private, but it was all variations on the same eleven possible plot-lines.
I’m sure you can think of a few of them. The underdog story, David and Goliath, Independence Day; the ‘happily ever after’ faerie tales; the phoenix rising from the ashes and all the resurrection stories, rebirth, reincarnation, regeneration. We can each think of a few different stories individually, we would probably split hairs on any actual list. I say eleven stories but admit it is poetic conjecture. It could be just one story, one immense story, expanding and branching in every direction. It could be an infinite number of stories, every experience a unique occurrence in its own right despite the similarities.
I say eleven and yes it is a fuzzy number, it was never meant as anything to argue. But you are welcome to break out the chalk and show your proof, otherwise get back in line.
We cannot reinvent the wheel. Every scenario we will ever come up will be stumbled upon simultaneously by at least a half dozen other people, and chances are if your story isn’t based on Shakespeare, it’s probably been done by the Simpsons.
And I don’t want anyone to take this is as an endorsement to stop trying, I don’t want to defend the over-churning of stale ideas, or the constant repetitive sequels that sprout from the never-ending franchise.
If anything it really should force us to find our own voice, the personal twist only we can apply. It should make us try harder to find something new to say above the chaotic chorus. Sometimes we can spot an angle where no light had shined before. We have to figure out how the new words will work, how they will sound slightly different coming out of our own mouths.
©Robert Emmett McWhorter