Originally posted on http://www.jtbaptiste.com – 14 Aug 2014
A few days I sent out this tweet.
“Need a topic for my blog! #amwriting”
So whilst I scrolled though my twitter timeline and procrastinated, I found myself asking the question ‘Is there really an original idea?’
Now, this wasn’t the first time that I have asked myself this question. After writing the first four chapters of my book, Key Positions, it took four complete strangers to read it and confirm that I was definitely not rewriting ‘The Departed’.
Despite the reassurances, the question still remained. Do we ever have an original idea? So, whilst I sat at my desk and pondered, I looked at my bookshelf and saw a book called ‘The Seven Basic Plots’ by Christopher Booker. In his intro he discussed the comparison between the 1970’s classic film ‘Jaws ‘ and the poem Beowulf. My first thought was Jaws and Beowulf? They’re two completely different things. One is about a sleepy seaside town being attacked by a shark and a man battling that shark. The other is about a village being attacked by a monster and a man battling…Right, Ok, maybe Booker is on to something.
Not only did Booker point out that both plots were similar but that they were also telling the same story of man overcoming the monster. He then goes a little bit further and tells us that there are only seven basic plots.
Overcoming the Monster
Rags to Riches
Voyage and Reform
Great. Just seven plots. Seven plots that every writer has used. With only seven plots it then becomes blatantly obvious that we don’t have original ideas but as writers we have the ability to craft and create stories around these ideas. We sit at our desks and we plot, and we build our characters. We know how our characters think, what their fears are and whether they hate onions or not.
The book that I’m working on now started life as two books. Book number one was imaginatively called ‘The Brief’ and I came up with the idea whilst I was working on a Saturday morning, as a duty solicitor, at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court. I sat at the back of court, impatiently waiting for my case to be called on when I began to write a court scene. All I knew was that somewhere in this story a character would have to return to a world that they had left behind. Whereas the idea for the second book came after I read one line in a newspaper article more than 10 years ago.
But despite what I thought was a good idea, eight chapters into ‘The Brief’ I got stuck. My ‘original idea’ wasn’t going anywhere. My poor character, Nick, was sitting in his prison cell looking at me with his arms outstretched repeatedly asking ‘J T, what’s going on? What are you doing with me? You had a good idea – now what?’ The second book never got beyond that one line that I read in a newspaper 10 years ago. ‘The Bank of England’s printing works are based in Loughton, Essex’. Then lightening struck and the light bulb switched on. Why not combine the two ideas and ladies and gentlemen ‘KEY POSITIONS’ the novel was born.
No one has an original idea anymore and I’m not going to beat myself up about it. My skill as a writer is my ability to tell a story and I’ve already got an idea for another book. Where did I get the idea from I hear you ask. Well, last week the Amazon deliveryman knocked my door, gave me my parcel and asked if I would accept a parcel on behalf of my neighbour. I said yes and waited for my neighbour to pick it up. Now the plot may not be original. There might be a crime to solve and a murderer to pursue. My protagonist may ride the crest of fame but then have an epic fall of grace. There might be an unspeakable tragedy and lines will be crossed. Nothing really original but I will make sure that it’s a bloody good story. I might even throw in a shark.