The Limited Number of Story Ideas

the limited number of story ideasFrom Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots to Robert MacKee’s Story and Joseph Campbell’s  the Hero’s Journey – all will tell you about the limited number of story ideas.

Mark Twain nailed it in the 1800’s:

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”
— Mark Twain

And it is true.

Avatar is Dances with Wolves with Pocahontas and giant smurfs. The Terminator is Frankenstein’s monster
Jaws is the monster in the dark from Beowulf. Jack Reacher  is a latterday Western gunslinger from The Virginian to Shane. The same travelling-lone-warrior archetype from Greek, Persian, Indian, and Japanese myth.

There are endless experts telling you the essential, must-have, ignore-at-your-peril, structural elements that any successful plot has to include. It is now an incontrovertible, fixed formula.

What’s an author to do?

Craft the best you can with the elements at your disposal. Gloss, shine and make as-new.