Can you believe that it’s already March? Where has all the time gone? I mean, really! It feels like it was still January only just last week!
Like time slipping by unnoticed, we often don’t recognize inspiration in our work. (Smooooth transition. I know, right?) Stories like Beauty and the Beast or Cinderella have been in our collective unconscious for so long that we don’t recognize the elements of them that we’re recycling into new stories. That’s one of the reasons why there are so many “nothing new” quotes. You all know at least one (or a variation of). Things like:
- There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know. –Harry S Truman
- There is nothing new except what has been forgotten. –Marie Antoinette
- There is nothing new, from Greek mythology to Shakespeare to every romcom ever made, we’re just reimagining the same 12 story plots over and over again –so what makes people keep watching and listening? It’s all about the character. –Jeremy Renner
Personally my favourite is:
- When you get as old as I am, you kind of believe there’s nothing new under the sun, but there’s always a fresh way of looking at something. That’s why I love working with young people. They remind you of things you used to know and have since forgotten. –Jacki Weaver
I wrote several essays in university about aspects, archetypes, tropes, and themes that get regurgitated time and again. Two of my better ones were ‘Mythical References in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’ and ‘Greek Helper Figures as Seen in German Fairy Tales’. Due to my educational background, I see Greek mythic elements in almost everything I read and/or watch. But these elements aren’t necessarily unique to Ancient Greece. Many elements were developed independently in various parts of the world, but are still remarkably similar (moral dilemmas, coming of age stories, and the idea that heroes are somehow better, or more, than mere humans).
Heck, two years ago I made an entire card game based on the universal elements you can find in stories!
While you can try to avoid tropes and old patterns, even “flipping” the traditions can fall into an older tradition. (Anti-heroes aren’t new, they’re just seeing a resurgence thanks to gritty reboots) I wouldn’t be surprised if every “flipped” tradition has already been done before.
But don’t despair!
Just because there have been a thousand Cinderella stories doesn’t mean you should scrap yours. The new perspective you bring to the story can make it feel fresh and exciting. Most of these elements get repeated so often for a good reason. Don’t try to cut them from your work entirely. Just try to make them your own.
After all, if ten people were told to create a story based on the Ugly Duckling story using a snake, a compass, and travel via train… well, we’re going to end up with ten different stories. I bet the stories would even run a gamut of genres and target age brackets.
So just because you realized that your story is a retelling of some other tale, don’t give up on it. Claim your inspiration and move forward. Defy expectations and create something new with it! 😉