Recently there was a lawsuit filed by Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne against Sam Smith and his producers for the song “Stay With Me”. They claimed that if sped up, the song sounds exactly like their 80’s hit “Won’t Back Down”. The video below illustrates this very well:
I have mentioned before on this blog that the novel The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is extremely similar in plot with the Koushun Takami novel Battle Royale written in 1999. The similarities are striking, and if one reads the Takami novel they will immediately wonder if Collins plagiarized the novel entirely.
A postmodernist would say that these are not plagiarisms at all (unless perpetrated intentionally), as much as Star Wars is Harry Potter. These stories are not intended to be similar, but in many ways they are. A postmodernist would say that these unintentional copies of stories are inevitable because all stories are told and all tropes are inevitably repeating.
It is insanely difficult to write anything that is “new” or “original”, in that since so much fiction has been written that invariably we will channel our inner Tolkien or PK Dick. We will write that epic adventure story only to have people compare it to The Odyssey or Star Wars or a myriad of other well known and successful plots.
The thing that we must then rely upon is the ability to execute the prose of the story in a way that is fresh and interesting and unique. I read a massive amount of fiction, and I can tell you dear reader that I often do not continue reading a novel past the second chapter if the prose does not grab me and keep my attention. It must sing. It must be vivid and descriptive. It must be engaging.
I suppose my answer to this question is that by all means in this current age execution of prose is much more important than being “original”. The one thing that makes our fiction interesting and unique is not the story but the way it is told, the way the action is described. So forget about trying to come up with an original story and just write from your gut, but by all means make sure that your writing is interesting to read and an adventure to explore.