In the crazy firestorm that is the major motion picture The Hunger Games we need to stop a moment and realize with a small whimper of sadness that all the good ideas may be used up.
Don’t judge me. The Hunger Games has a nice narrative, flows well, tells a good story and is all-in-all a well written novel. The problem is that Suzanne Collins may have accidentally used a plot line that is already published at least twice. How many of you remember the Richard Bachman book The Long Walk or the Batoru Rowaiaru novel Battle Royale? Both of these older novels (Bachman/King’s novel in 1979 and Rowaiaru’s in 1996) contain the following plot points: teens are chosen by lottery to participate in a dystopian government’s competition for food/resources and the last representative left alive at the end is awarded the food/resource. All of these books include 16 year old protagonists and dystopian futures.
For other books on this subject (or plotline) have you ever read Tunnel in the Sky by Robert Heinlein? This is more than just a Joseph Campbell moment where an archetype is repeated over and over again as Dr. Campbell stated in The Hero With a Thousand Faces. These are near direct plot copies.
Each year, Hollywood produces more and more remakes of older films or television shows or writes scripts based on old comic books for super hero movie blockbusters and awesome AMC television series (not knocking The Walking Dead. The writing added to the comic book storyline is top notch). It seems that the post-modernists were right when they said “all the stories have been told”. Are we facing a future where nothing original will rise up out of the malaise of carbon copy plotlines?
I wonder. As I write my current novel I find myself using elements of The Postman by David Brin, a dynamic for survival as seen in The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, demon/angel banter like The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, and humor like Charles Portis. (If you haven’t read Mr. Portis, then every good writer should).
It is so difficult to write something original, but it is also difficult to shape it into something that someone will want to read. I want my intuitive readers to see that my sniveling car salesman character is wearing the Army Ranger uniform he stole from a dead soldier in order to gain privilege is a nod to Gordon Krantz in The Postman. I want to have opening lines like Charles Portis in Dog of the South: “My wife Norma had run off with Guy Dupree and I was waiting around for the credit card billings to come in so I could see where they had gone.”
What writers have to do is not to rob blatantly but to be suttle with nuances, reference great writing, and tell their own story. I, for one, do not believe that all the stories have been told. I hope I am doing just that with my current novel. In truth all we can do is our best, telling good stories and causing our readers to escape into a reality that we create for them. What we write may not be wholly original, but it will be ours.