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Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Source material - looking for something original?

Slow word day today, What You Ask For is having one of those days and the word count is apparently going nowhere, a day when staring at the screen seems to be the highest ranking activity, until now that is. The current reading list on the blog needs updating, the listed titles are still being read but I have been distracted. I Recently sat down to watch Disney's John Carter, based on the novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs about the Virginia gentleman soldier whisked away to Mars and his amazing adventures  The byline for the DVD describes it as Star Wars for a new generation;  an interesting viewpoint considering the stories were written decades before Star Wars.

They are very much of their time, and Burroughs makes no apology in his work for that, like all of us who work with words our cultural background and social niceties exert a greater or lesser influence on what and how we write. I downloaded the books from Project Gutenberg, as free ebooks and can currently be found at most opportunities with my nose pressed into my e-reader following the latest tale. 

One description of a particularly loathsome character in the Carter stories flashed a very strong image of Jabba the Hutt, and I started chewing over sources and inspiration, how these two seem to constantly cross fertilise each other. I've used it myself, tucked oblique references into stories, and had readers comment about it.

The mental ramble through this landscape brought me back to my bookshelf and Christopher Booker's "Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories", a weighty chunk even in paperback but the results of years of consideration and an excellent read. The book explores the history of storytelling and compares some of the great and significant stories of the past with their modern siblings.  The premise is that there are seven basic plots, or story-lines and every story is one or a combination of the seven: Overcoming The Monster; Voyage and Return; Comedy; Tragedy; Rebirth; Rags to Riches; The Quest.

The comparison that caught my attention linked an old flood legend and James Bond; in the Seven Basic Plots; the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, among the earliest known stories was aligned with Doctor No, Ian Fleming's James Bond adventure, both are examples of Overcoming the Monster, and similarly the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf stands up with Jaws; Grendel's mother and the shark being the monster. The exploration continues and it is easy to wonder why a work of fiction could ever be called a novel if we, the writer's amongst us are retelling the same story-ies. Novel, something new, and each one searching for that original spark. 

Perhaps we are the spark, the original is the writer and the personal perspective. As witnesses to an event, no two people will tell exactly the same story, some details may match and the general plot will be recognisable but the intimate details of how the tale unfolds will be inspired by our personal story. 

On the slow word days like today, (after this you may wonder what a fast word day looks like) the idea of something to prompt the stream and get things moving becomes attractive. A recent acquisition is a set of story cubes, nine dice with a pictogram on each face, giving fifty four prompts. You roll the dice and use the nine images face up to create a story. An idea of such delicious simplicity it's child's play, and it works, just writing this and thinking about the seven basic plots, nine cubes and the mind-bogglingly huge variables possible kick-started something. Cubes, Borg, Star Trek, Seven, Nine, cybernetic implants, (six things already - and you know where this is going, unfortunately this has been done)
The storyline (of Seven) from the cubes ( Of Nine) is already familiar.

I can always roll the cubes again, and see what they come up with!

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