Been There, Done That

As I was sitting around today trying to come up with a new story idea – I kept running into the same roadblock.  I prefer to write fantasy.  The problem is that every time I thought of a new character, I would go over the details and realize, ‘yeah, that’s been done before.’

Every time I came up with a new story line, I would go over the details and think, ‘yeah, that was done in this book… or that was done in this movie… or they did that on that television show…”  Pretty much every character, every story has been told in one form or another.  All stories, for the most part, have been done.

Stories all have the same parts as far as a beginning, a problem or something that the characters must overcome, a part where all seems lost and the bad guys are winning, and then a climax and an ending to wrap it all up nicely and neatly… or a hook to tie into the sequel.  Having the same parts as other stories is fine but the characters should be different and interesting.  The problem they face should be different or interesting.  How they deal with it should be different and interesting.

I have to wonder, are there any new perspectives, different takes on the standard heroes quest we see so often in fantasy writing?  I thought, are there any new ways to portray main characters?  The whole, they are like us, they have flaws, they are not perfect – has been done.  The whole, they are perfect and they have no weaknesses – has been done.  The whole complete fantasy world where they are nothing like humans – has been done.  The whole, they are all too real and this could really happen – has been done.  The idea that the main characters are poor nobodies and have to take on the challenge of being heroes – has been done.   The idea that the main characters are initially above everyone else and have to become more like the regular guy – has been done.

I came to a conclusion on how to handle this problem.  I think that part of being a writer is handling this fundamental issue.  So what about everyone else?  What do you think on the idea that all fantasy stories are essentially the same tale?  What about the idea that all characters have been done before?

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8 thoughts on “Been There, Done That

  1. Sadly I have come to the same conclusion, although it isn’t just fantasy that has this issue. Any way you twist a tale, character, or a scene, there is always a story similar to it. That is why when I write I don’t think about what everyone else did. I think about what I want to do. I go with my heart, and in doing so create a voice. The thing that can set any book apart from each other, no matter how similar they are, is the voice of the author.
    I hope this helps others, because it took me a long time to figure that out on my writing journey.

  2. Recently I ran across a site or a post somewhere with a fantasy checklist. It was a list of things that have been done before (the tropes of fantasy) so you wouldn’t copy anyone else.

    I think the “helpful” person who created the list was trying to help, really they were. But reading the list I find so many things that if you used it as a guide you wouldn’t be able to write anything.

    Of course the stories have been done before. The stories never really change. It is the person telling the stories and the words they use that matter. Imagine a world where you can hate anything from George RR Martin but love everything from JRR Tolkien. They have similar tropes. Each of them use Great Evils bent on taking over the world. Should we shoot Martin because he came after Tolkien?

  3. Writers have been telling stories for millennia — I’m pretty sure everything’s been done! But any story can be told through fresh eyes, with fresh heart, in, as A. Willow pointed out, a fresh voice. I heard an editor say that a romance writer has to be a little in love with her hero. I think that all of us writers need to be, if not in love, totally engaged with our protagonists. That increases the likelihood that our readers will also become engaged with them and be less inclined to think, “Been there, done that.”

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