How Many Ideas Actually Exist?

Writing has a lot of questions but very rarely does it provide concrete answers. Like the short story post I wrote recently, if you google this question you’ll get answers that range from 1, 2 or 7 to 36 or even hundreds.

Take Avatar for example. The highest grossing film of all time. Is it not very similar to The Last Samurai, which in turn is very similar to Pocahontas which is probably very similar again to a film that came out before that. Ideas are recycled, reused and resold. And audiences love that.

Hollywood has taken this idea very literally in recent years by churning out sequels, prequels, spin-offs, adaptations and remakes like nobody’s business. Hollywood being lamented for a lack of originality is becoming as common as Meryl Streep bagging an award. Yet the types of films mentioned above – more often than not – become hits.

There’s something to be said for being similar to other projects, especially successful ones. Despite the fact that agents, publishers and competition hosts will often ask for something different, what they seem to really want is a new slant on an already told story. Think about it, when Twilight was all the rage, how many more Vampire television programs and films were made? They all – as far as I know – had a different slant on the Vampire story but I’d wager every one of them featured a human falling in love with a Vampire as is so often a trope of the genre, but because they were similar to something successful, they were given a shot. If people like one Vampire project, why wouldn’t they like another? It’s logical at the very least.

The reason I bring this up is because last night I discovered the film Splice. The plot of which “concerns experiments in genetic engineering being done by a young scientific couple, who attempt to introduce human DNA into their work of splicing animal genes”. For those – if there are any – that read my blog regularly, you may notice that sounds incredibly similar to the short story I’m writing at the moment. I have never seen Splice before, yet I fear now I may be inadvertently ripping it off.

I think there are two ways you can go when this happens. Either let it put you off and try (and inevitably fail) to find a brand new story that’s never been done before, or you use it as inspiration and motivation to make yours the best version of the story there can be. The latter is what I hope to achieve, but I feel like I should watch Splice first.

The Weight of Self Pressure

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Over the last decade or so, becoming a writer has not only been a primary goal of mine, but it seems more achievable now for me than it has in the past. I can’t really explain why that is; perhaps its because there are so many ways now to get your writing out there, or perhaps it is because that everything I write teaches me something new – about either myself or the writing process. I know I’m still a long way of achieving my main aim of having a novel published or a script sold, but I feel I’m making progress, no matter how small.

One thing that I believe is stopping me is the incredible amount of pressure that I put on myself, which in turn turns into self-doubt, which then creates a negative impression of my writing that I just can’t turn off. This has increased over the past decade in tandem with the above. It is when I compare my experience of writing two feature length film scripts years apart that I can see just how much pressure I am putting on myself now. And how that is taking away the fun from a hobby that I used to enjoy a lot more. The two scripts in question were:

Navanho. Set in the fantasy kingdom of Navanho, King Gabriel’s palace is overrun by his half-brother who banishes Gabriel from the kingdom and takes his baby daughter to raise for his own, in his own image. Gabriel brings together a team of mercenaries – including old friends and new acquaintances – to take back his kingdom and rescue his daughter.

Beyond the Veil. A journalist investigating a series of kidnappings is thrust into the centre of his own story when his son becomes the latest victim. After finding out the children are being smuggled to a different dimension, our hero must visit the second world and face off with some familiar faces to find out why his son was targeted.

Oh… it wasn’t until I just wrote both of the synopses out side by side that I realised how similar the two stories are.

Navanho was the first script that I ever wrote (way back when scripped.com was a thing) and seems to have been lost in the ether now. It may have a simple story which is similar to many fantasy novels/films but it will always have a place in my heart because it was the first project I had seen through from start to finish and is exactly the kind of film that I would love to see on the big screen. I remember writing Navanho just to see if I could. To see if I had it in me to write a full length feature film. And I did. I think it’s for this reason that it will always be my favourite piece of writing I have ever done. The point is though, when I wrote Navanho I wrote it for myself, knowing that it was a project being written out of passion and was not meant for other people’s eyes. This completely sucked the pressure out of the project because if it was bad, what did it matter?

When I came up with the idea for Beyond the Veil, I genuinely thought I was onto something good. The basic premise, I believe, is a really good and really strong one. Some of the themes and characters of that script were solid. I’m not saying the final product was a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but it was good. And when I look back on it now I can be proud of it. I wrote Beyond the Veil about three years after Navanho and was writing it with the intention of trying to get some interest from production companies (of which I did get a little) so while I was passionate about it, I wasn’t writing it just for me, which is where the pressure came from.

More and more I have found myself trying to second guess my audience because I want their approval. Not all writers will admit to wanting their writings to be liked, but I do. I want to be able to share my stories and ideas with people and for them to resonate and mean something to the people who read them like they mean something to me. I feel like I’m caught in a vicious circle of wanting to put my own work out there but scared of it not getting the reaction I would like. It’s a big thing, putting your work in the hands of someone else and not knowing how they’re going to react to it.

I put so much pressure on myself because I want my writing to be the best it can be that I think sometimes my passion and writing style gets lost in the mix. I know that I need to take this pressure and turn it into something more productive, like courage, motivation to do better, determination to succeed or all of the above.

Finally I’ve seen what the biggest obstacle I face in becoming a writer is. It’s me.