As an avid reader and watcher of film I have often wondered if there are a finite number of stories in the human imagination. I am not saying everyone who has written a book or made a film is committing deliberate plagiarism. It is undeniable though that many films and books are retellings of older stories. Many are fairy tales set in the modern day and a large well known City. The same is true of Shakespeare’s work. Romeo and Juliet, The taming of the Shrew and many others have been told multiple times in different settings.
Another repeated tale is that of the Hero, often a troubled or unloved soul, who battles against untold odds against an arch enemy of superior intellect and strength. Needless to say he always triumphs in the end-even if it takes a film trilogy for this to come to pass. This story is the basis of most super hero movies.
Even the Crime novel, no matter where it is set, follows the same pattern. Mostly these feature a baffling murder or death attributed to natural causes. A detective, normally with a sidekick, is assigned or works out that a crime has been committed. The sidekick is there in order for the slower reader/watcher to have things explained to them. After a twisted and tangled web is followed, with many false leads eliminated, the villain is revealed in a dramatic way. By and large the criminal is the most unexpected character and there has to be a twist in the ending. The hero must also be menaced occasionally.
An updated version of the Hero story is the type of thriller written by Dan Brown. The hero faces danger, violence and injury that would fell a lesser mortal. He/She is in pursuit of a theory based around an ancient document or artefact. His opposition is a person or group whose interest is in suppressing the aforesaid theory. They are also quite prepared to kill the hero and sidekicks (Once again for the slower reader/viewer!). After Mr Brown the market was deluged by books of this type and they are still popular but are essentially the same basic plot.
The Romance novel has seen a resurgence with T.V. adaptations of classics and, inevitably, the updated modern versions. These are largely seen as women’s books or films and are concerned with the rocky path to idealised romance. There must be angst, there must be opposition to the match, there must be a mysterious enemy of the couple who will do anything to stop the union but in the end there must be marriage or the modern equivalent.
There is a new breed of Romance novel typified by the 50 Shades trilogy which is essentially a love story but explores the more physical side of the relationship.
The list goes on, Disaster movies, Horror and Science fiction. All of these have different settings but most have features in common with the core stories I have mentioned Even these usually include a love story, a ruthless enemy and a hero.
I know that there are some original stories which do not quite fit these things. Dickens Christmas carol is unique in my experience but is about redemption which is a common theme in the aforementioned genres.
The fact of the matter is that we like having our favourite tales spoon fed to us. A truly original novel is rare but they are unlikely to be made into films because they do not have the dramatic plotlines. As a book they are enjoyable but that is all they will remain.
Given the Hollywood habit of Rebooting even recent tales, especially in the Super hero genre, you have to wonder if the original story exists. I am a writer but find it very hard to come up with a plot which has not already been done to death.