Nothing New Under the Sun

"What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun." Ever heard this?

As a storyteller, this can be a very limiting view.  Or is it?

Romeo_and_JulietWilliam Shakespeare's version of Twilight

A prominent screenwriter in Hollywood, David Freeman, gave a seminar.  There are hundreds of seminars I could have attended, but why did I go to his?  If you go to his site, he talks about techniques in writing.  No theories.  In fact, he gave so many techniques, it was like getting a trunk full of tools.  And in any one job, it’s highly unlikely you’ll use all of them, but you’ll definitely use enough to make your story emotional, something he emphasizes a lot.

He agreed with the quote above, but in a very un-limiting way.

I love going to movies, and one of the pleasures is seeing the previews.  I hate missing the previews like I hate missing the beginning of any movie.  One movie I’m anticipating is Avatar.

When I first saw it, I thought, James Cameron stole my idea!  WTF Cameron?  How’d you hack into my PC?

As I watched the preview, his premise was different.  Similar but different.

Then an image sparked in my mind.  American Indians gazing out into the sea as English ships sailed toward them.

The story of the Native American Indians against pioneering pilgrims is a familiar one.  It’s empire building.  The conflict?  The natives don't want to leave.

Look at Braveheart.  I love that movie.  It’s the same thing.

Look at the battle of Thermopile, 300.

Look at the Mongols invading China.

Look at China’s history of the seven independent states warring against each other for power.

Look at Star Wars.

Look at King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

We have tons of stories based on the idea of oppression.  Sometimes the story ends with unification, like China and the seven states.  Sometimes we have stories of independence, like William Wallace’s fight for Scotland’s freedom.  But they all stem from a single idea.

Avatar is no different.  A powerful force, in this case us in the far future, wants something, a valuable mineral.  To mine it, we have to “politically” move a native race.  Easy enough.  But wait!  The native people don’t wanna move.

And the story begins.

Freeman said there were an unlimited amount of stories that could be told using the story computer.  Look at any story that you love or connect to.  Find a variation.

Turn the hero into a heroin.

Change the race.

Change the time.

Change the setting.

Change anything.

Look at Romeo and Juliet.  Change the time to the present.  Make the male a brooding, James Dean-looking vampire.  Now you have Twilight.

The Princess and the Frog is a great example.  What do we expect to happen when the princess kisses the frog?  The frog should turn to her prince.  But Disney was like, “Hell no. Dat’s been dun.  Da princess should turn to a frog, sucka!”

OK.  I doubt Disney execs would talk like that.  But they used the story computer to churn out what seems like a great story.

The Seven Provinces is a familiar story.  It's about empire building.  It's an underdog story.  It's about a man trying to protect his family in a time of war.  It's about oppression, betrayal, tragedy.  And much more.

There may be nothing new under the sun.  But that doesn’t mean new stories can’t be told using familiar themes.

Are You Honest?

A couple of weeks ago I'd met up with a friend I hadn't talked to for over a decade. He used to be an instructor at the martial arts school I'd taught at. Read about my opinions about that in my bio. bruce_lee_head

We're both writers and we'd talked about writing the story that calls to us. With all the vampiric stories that are being churned both in the publishing and film industry, I don't blame people for jumping on the band wagon.  But the point of being an artist is to express your soul.  And if your soul says write a vampire story, then write a vampire story.

When it comes to finding out what you want to do with your life, what story should be written, what path you should take, you need to be honest with yourself.  How do you be honest with yourself?

First of all, are you honest with other people? I'm not talking about being a saint, never telling lies, never doing anything wrong. Were human. But do you care about what other people say about you? Do care about what other people think about you? Do you put all your stock in your status in life?

Why is this important?

Because any of this, namely your ego, can block your true self.  You become motivated by the things that seem important--the size of your house, the German car in your massive garage, the name brand clothes you wear, the title of your job, bottled water.  Do these things matter?  That's for you to decide.  Do they matter when it comes toexpressing yourself honestly? No.

When I went to the San Francisco Writers Conference, Richard Paul Evans, one of the keynote speakers said something that really hit home. Especially since he's a New York Times bestselling author.  He said write your truth.  Don't hop on the bandwagon. Don't be a follower.  Lead by leading.

Bruce Lee said the same thing. Honestly express yourself.

Look at the things that you're drawn to.  Do you love music?  Any particular kind?  Try that out.  Do you love software programming?  Try that out.  Do you love selling?  If you have an affinity for houses, maybe you should be a real estate agent.  Or if you love helping people get healthier, maybe you should try physical therapy, personal training, nursing.

Is there a common theme that runs throughout your life?

For me, I've always loved stories.  And I always loved fantasizing, putting myself in action movie roles, imagining what it would be like to be betrayed by a close friend, finding myself in a fantasy land where I'm a warlord.  Since my sophomore year, I've tried to write novels.  But when it came to deciding a major in college, I never thought of majoring in English or creative writing.  Why?  I'm not sure.  Maybe the things I had to go through as a person lent itself to writing the series of novels that I'm writing now.

I'm not angry about it.  Nor do I judge it.  I realize that I have stories to be told, and I'm telling them.

Write What You Know!

Write what you know. Wise words given to beginning and experienced writers. Published writers also repeat this crap.

Oops. No I didn’t!

Did I say crap to one of the most repeated maxims—ahem—crap advice?

Hell yeah!

I can already see the comments and emails. What do you know? What have you been published? Blah, blah, blah.

Let’s take Star Trek. When Gene Roddenberry began his epic TV show, did he know what the future truly held? He definitely got a lot of things right. But he also got a lot of things wrong. But what do the millions and billions of Trekkies worldwide focus on? Their love and connection of the characters.

J.K. Rowling wrote one of the most published stories ever. Does she really know how to be a wizard? Or a witch? She’s got a good idea. But she doesn’t truly know. I use the word know in reference to having performed magic. Real magic. The kind done with a wand. She’s never said, “Wingardium Leviosa!” and, bam, her Rolls flew into the sky. Although, her bank account did.

Why do millions upon billions of people feverishly read her books? Cause they love and connect with the stories and characters. It’s totally engrossing.

Talk about engrossing! Stephanie Meyers wrote the Twilight series and millions and billions of girls, women, and ladies engulfed all four books in record time. However, she’s gotten severe criticism on her writing.

So what? Look at her fans, her numbers, her ability to connect her story and characters to her readers. Tell me if her writing sucks. Don’t even mention she sucks to her fandom. Images of teen girls tearing flesh off bone come to mind.

Has Ms. Meyers sucked blood? I don’t know the answer to that, but I would assume no. Nor is she a vampire. And no matter how Gothic you are you don’t know what being a vampire is like, to only thirst for blood, to despise the smell of cooked food, to see people—cattle—talk to you, smile, laugh.

What all writers, all artistes, anyone who is human, know is what it’s like to be human. We all know what it’s like to fall in love, to lose something precious (like a ring formed in the fires of Mordor), to be isolated, to be the underdog, etc. It’s the emotions that we should write about. That’s what we connect to. That’s what we know.

Don’t believe me?

Listen to all the previews shown before the feature film. A deep voice:

The use of structure is superb. Dialogue written so realistically, it’s realistic. The scene breaks done so well you don’t know if there was a scene break. But there was. Or else the whole movie would be one big scene! Opening in June with the perfect first line EVER!

You’re more likely to hear this:

In the barren city of San Francisco, a lone straggler wakes to the cold realization that he’s alone. His screams are unheard. Thrilling! The eerie echo of his foot steps lure predators scarred by terrors unknown. Gripping! He retreats into Starbucks only to find brewing coffee. Stimulating! But where is the barista? Spellbinding! He finds an adult bookstore. Movies are still playing! Exciting!

One drill my friend and I use is tell each other what we feel when we read each other’s work. Do we connect to the characters? Who do we care about? Why? Do the events make logical sense? If not, what’s missing? I ask these questions when people read my fascinating stories. Hoping that the compelling nature comes across grippingly.

Check out my episodes. I’ve done my best to do this.