I came across a discussion on social media recently, where a friend and promising young author was talking about a story idea he was working on. In the conversation, another person came along and said “oh, that’s been done already.” My friend was deflated and discouraged, but immediately fired back up, angry for this human raincloud having come along to drip on his parade. Which was good, because Joseph Capdepon is a name you’ll see on book covers soon and they will be worth reading (I have had the privilege of beta reading some of his work).
Here’s what Joe said about it (the man has a gift with words):
trying his best to push someone away from writing a story because someone already used the tropes I will be using.
Reading his comment still pisses me off, especially coming from him.
You want to piss off, or at times, seriously crush the will of a writer? Tell them someone else wrote what they are writing. Because when I am brain storming an idea, what I really want to hear is how another author has already written my story, thus inferring that I shouldn’t write it.
Well, you can go fuck yourself, because I’m still writing it.
But my comment on the thread, and then the genesis of this post, was:
Write it. Write it better.
It doesn’t matter if ‘it’s been done’ because there is nothing new under the sun, and that isn’t intended to be a depressing blanket statement of ‘why should I try, anyway?’ Every author brings their own voice to a story, weaves their own elements in that make that story new and unique and good to read. Yes, even if it has been done before. If you ever take part in a conversation like that and are seized with the impulse to say something like ‘it’s been done’ bite your tongue! Young writers need encouragement, not to be discouraged from writing out the stories in their heads. My daughters talk to me sometimes about fanfiction, and that’s sort of the epitome of ‘it’s been done’ but still I don’t tell them to stop reading it, or the one that attempts to write it – heck, I encourage her to write. She’s got fans of her bits of tale, and it’s not nice to leave fans hanging for the next chapter forever.
I digress. I see this a lot in reviews – or just in casual comments about my books (and others, but my own carry that personal little sting) that ‘oh, this is just like…’ and you’re sitting there thinking ‘but I’ve never even read/watched/played that!’ And that happens because there are common tropes and themes to any fiction that parallel human character and history and other influences. But the reviewers and discussions are not (usually) meant to disparage the book, it’s just that being human, they look for patterns and points of comparison. Humans aren’t always the fans of originality they say they are. The readers like (I know I do!) what they like, and they enjoy seeing certain themes in books. Like the bad guys losing, and the hero getting the girl, and… you catch my drift.
While I was looking up something for the Arthur Clarke article I wrote yesterday, I ran across an WH Auden quote that suited this topic beautifully. I memed (meemed? Memify’d? mememememe…. ok. enough of that) it so it could be shared. Because this is something I want all writers to keep in mind.
In short (and it is short, sorry. I’m dealing with something that feels like the flu, although hopefully isn’t. It’s just annoying) write what you want to write. Infuse it with your own voice, bring it to life, and remember – plots are like empty suits of clothing. They may delineate the form, but it’s what’s inside that brings the full thing into the world.
Or maybe that’s just the fever talking. Don’t let the naysayers get you down. Your authorial voice is yours, and you shouldn’t change it for anyone. If you want to tell a story, write it. Make it your own. It will be better for that.