It’s the adjective every artist is gunning for, right?
2. a. Not derived from something else; fresh and unusual.
b. Showing a marked departure from previous practice; new.
3. Productive of new things or new ideas; inventive.
Of course, as the wisest man on earth once said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, New International Version)
Correct, as usual, King Solomon. The sooner we artists accept this fact, the less disillusioned we’ll be: It’s all been done before. …but not necessarily just like that.
Take, for example, a movie remake – say, BBC’s “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” versus Disney’s production of the same name. Same name, same story, based on the same book… and yet it’s not the same. The different writers behind the screenplays created different scripts. The different directors instructed the different actors to play the scenes this way or that. The costumes, the sets, the music, the technological techniques… all subtly or completely different. And naturally, turning away from the movie to read the book by C.S. Lewis would be an entirely different experience, too. But even within the same medium – comparing movie to movie – the dissimilarity is manifest.
And that’s when the idea is to depict the same story. What happens when a story serves not as a pattern to follow, but simply a first spark of inspiration? Suppose a storyteller’s starting point is the tale of Sleeping Beauty. You’ve got the good and bad fairies, a nearly-lethal spinning wheel, a hundred-year sleep, a rise-and-shine kiss… You could use all of these elements, or pick and choose.
Your story could consist of the journal entries of a fairy who’s fed-up with being overlooked for party invitations, and she swears, if that happens just one more time…
Your story could follow a century-worth of dangerous dreams that the comatose princess’s subconscious mind must brave in order to achieve her awakening.
Your story could stick to the familiar formula right up until the kiss, when it then turns out that the prince has been enchanted into a beast and only broke the princess’s curse so that she could hopefully return the favor before the clock strikes midnight.
You could end up with anything. You could end up with Book Two of “The Wilderhark Tales”. The variations are endless, and that’s where originality comes in.
It’s up to the artist – be he or she author, filmmaker, painter, minstrel, or whatever else – to select from the teetering pile of age-old elements that have been used over and over under the sun, and recombine them into something wonderfully new. And we’ve all of us got a bit of a head start, there, too, because the one element available to each of us that none of the other artists have is… our own original selves.