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Justin a.k.a. The Code Monkey Code Monkey [kohd muhng'-kee] n : 1. Creature known for it's ability to transform caffeine into code. 2. Justin Jones
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This post isn’t about code, but I’m rolling with it anyway. Feel free to skip to the next code related post. Nobody said every post had to be tech related. Did they?
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I was having an interesting conversation with my son tonight. Somehow we started on art and meandered over in to the subject of story patterns. I was encouraging him to write, and making sure that he wasn’t holding himself to unrealistic standards of thinking he was going to write a masterpiece the first time he wrote a story. That’s the kind of thing that takes a lot of time and a lot of writing to master. His frustration came from the fact that he was having trouble writing a story that was completely original. As we discussed this, it occurred to me that I don’t think that any story is completely original. We took, as an example, the comic book character I created in high school. Somewhere along the way I more or less envisioned the outline of a movie script involving the same comic book character. I realized, thinking it through, that my entire story had more or less no original elements, but everything about the story was borrowed from something else.

To expound: The character’s name is David Death. Hey, it seemed like an awesome comic book character name when I was in High School. The movie script more or less follows the Revenge Quest story line, which has been done countless times by countless action movie stars; nearly every Steven Seagal movie, for instance. If you took Batman, The Punisher, Darkman, The Crow, Buckaroo Banzai, John McClaine, any Jet Li character, and Jason Vorhees and put them all in a blender, out would come David Death. There was almost nothing original about the story. The idea that I might still be able to scratch together a script and sell it to Hollywood is based solely on the fact that Hollywood seems to have completely run out of ideas, and might actually jump at the chance to make something that at least appears to be original. We’ll see if I ever actually get around to that or not.

Then we discussed Harry Potter. The fact is, Harry Potter is hardly original either. The story follows The Hero’s Journey and is basically Star Wars with a secret wizard school in a hidden world of magic. Rowling’s genius came not in the originality of the plot, but in A) a unique mixture in which to put the plot and B) a gift for compelling writing. No matter how much you actually have in common with Harry Potter, you in some way identify with the character and actually care what happens to him. This also, from what I can tell, highlights the main difference between Harry Potter and Twilight, but that’s neither here nor there. Someone (for some reason I’m thinking it was Asimov) once said that good science fiction is about the story, not the technology that makes up the backdrop.

Star Wars itself is blatantly an implementation of The Hero’s Journey. George Lucas has said as much, having studied the work of Joseph Campbell in crafting the story. There have been countless implementations of this pattern, dating back to (I believe) the ancient Greek myth of Perseus and probably further. I’ve seen several recent fantasy implementations of it as well, including Legend of the Seeker (on TV), Eregon, and The Belgariad. Star Wars, for all it’s perceived originality, has very little actually. The Jedi were based on samurai, the Force is based on the Tao, the battle sequences were based on World War II movies, and the entire thing has an “Old West” feel about it, being most likely inspired by old serial westerns. The genius of George Lucas, again, is the ability to recombine all of these things in a new way and to write a compelling story.

It occurred to me that I can’t think of a single story that doesn’t have at least some kind of predecessor, and a myriad of influences. Perhaps a lot of us frustrated writers who never tried to actually publish anything are holding ourselves to an unrealistic standard. Perhaps every story ever told is just simply a retelling of another story, going back generations to primitive days when the first stories were probably just embellishments on recounting of actual events.

I don’t know, I’m just musing. It’s a blog, not a research paper. Anyway, thoughts and input are welcome. Back to code next time.

Posted on Monday, April 8, 2013 12:14 AM | Back to top


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