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It's a simple fact the there are more fiction books in existence now than one person could possibly read in a lifetime. Add to this the supposition that all plots, themes and genres have been thoroughly explored, and I arrive at the conclusion that no-one need write anything 'new' for a long, long time.

In the face of this logic and the gathering ocean of printed matter, I feel like collecting a huge pile of my favourite tomes, finding somewhere cosy, and just curling up to read them. Maybe there are others that feel this way too.

My question is: your personal opinions aside, what facts, references, or specific expertise can you offer to counter the idea that it's all been done so many times before and that to continue writing fiction is a pointless exercise?


Research: There have been some good questions about writer's block (Help! I've got Writer's Block / What are the reasons behind Writer's block?) and motivation (How can I get into the mindset to write?), but most of them focus on what to do when we're confronted with a blank screen or a stalled project, not (as I'm interested in): what gets us in front of the screen in the first place.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – a CVn Jun 6 '18 at 16:24
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    This is the crux of "The Importance of Being (Slightly) Arrogant as a Writer" .. you have to be arrogant enough to believe that you really have something new that no-one else has created so far. writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/… – JeffUK Jun 7 '18 at 12:56
  • Yes! Yes! That's me, @Jeff. Although also with more than 1% insanity. :D – robertcday Jun 7 '18 at 13:10
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    Thanks, @Standback - some of those answers are quite useful to me. (now watch carefully as I insert my tongue in my cheek). I was just thinking of asking a follow-up question to this one called 'Writing Questions - have they all been asked before?' But then I thought to myself 'possibly so, but still - there are always new slants and perspectives.' And now I look out of the window and notice how that blue sky is hosting a sweet pot of golden heat and light and I smile and I think to myself 'I'm having a slice of that' and so I click 'Add Comment' and go out for a stroll. Laters, my friend. :) – robertcday Jun 8 '18 at 9:51
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I'm sure everyone can agree that any book that is analyzed in any literature class is not only looked at as a body of work, but also in the context of the time in which it was written. The plot, themes, characters are always explored by discussing why the author decided to make the choices he or she did, and what could have influenced them.

The Lord of the Rings is always brought up as a reflection of World War 1, To Kill A Mockingbird is talked about in reference to the racial tensions of the 50s and 60s in America. Even if they end up being timeless classics that can be enjoyed decades later, readers can get a deeper understanding of the novels by understanding their origins, and what they represent.

Fast-forward to today. The world is changing incredibly quickly. Our lives aren't the same as they were 5 years ago, and a decade ago was different again. I would argue that more books need to be written in order to reflect the times that we live in, as the times are changing at such a rapid pace that future generations will need to consume thousands of pieces of writing just to understand what was going on.

Brexit, the rise of nationalism, the longest serving monarch in British history, Pokemon Go, Project Yewtree, so-called Islamic State bombings, fidget spinners, Benedict Cumberbatch. Could anyone have predicted any of these things at any time in the past, or understand them at any time in the future? And this is confined to just the last 5 years on an island of 65 million people, in a world inhabited by 7 billion.

These are all things that won't be in works from years ago, and if no one writes about them now then no one else can. If there is something that only 90's kids will understand, then it stands to reason that it needs to be a 90's kid that will write a novel that speaks to an entire generation. Sure the plot, characters and themes might be derivative of earlier works, but they can be combined in a unique way to reflect the experiences that only one generation of people shared.

So there needs to be new writers, to tell the same stories in a way that only they and their peers will truly be able to appreciate. We need to reflect our world through an art-form that has survived for millennia, but changes with every passing decade. The world can never be done with new writers, because it will never be done with new stories for them to tell.

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    Don't forget #MeToo – Adi219 Jun 8 '18 at 17:02
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And yet somehow, every year, new authors sell blockbusters and earn $millions.

JK Rowling went from nobody to being worth nearly half $billion. So did Dan Brown, so did Stephen King, to name a few, so have many others -- And that is just on their share of the profits, their sales are in the multi-billion range. The entertainment industry with a foundation in writing fiction must be worth $trillions.

Obviously, nobody would buy their work if they did not find it new and interesting. Which is why this:

Add to this the supposition that all plots, themes and genres have been thoroughly explored,

is crap; a false supposition.

As for all the books out there: The world is constantly changing, technology is constantly advancing. This is 2018, and nobody on Earth has seen the Earth of 2019. There are no good stories written in 1970 about teens with cell phones and the Internet, or young superhackers taking down the world economy. Any that come remotely close would fall today on ears too sophisticated to sustain their suspension of disbelief, too many details would be wrong and could not have been anticipated.

The same goes for fantasy worlds. Every person is unique and grows up in a unique way with unique experiences, even twins can argue, and have different milestone experiences with different people. So everyone invents different characters, based on what they want to see, and thus everyone creates a different entertainment.

The point of reading fiction is not to understand the structure of the story, it is to meet new people and have fun.

It doesn't make a difference if the plot can be crammed into a one page outline or is similar to a million other plots. If it is done by new characters, in a new place, and we don't know exactly to the word how it will turn out: It can be entertaining.

Yes, of course I know, watching Sherlock or Elementary or half a dozen other Sherlockian super-detective shows that in the typical episode a puzzle will be introduced, frustration will ensue with wrong leads and dead ends, then it will be solved, and the world reset to do it all again next week. So why do we still watch it? What makes this formulaic story entertaining for fifty episodes in a row?

For that matter, why watch any formulaic entertainment, like competition shows for singing or dancing or cooking, or sports? WHY are they entertaining even though we know very much that one will win, the others will lose?

We watch, read, and listen because of the characters, we humans have the unique ability, given decent writing / acting, to suspend disbelief and feel like fictional characters are real and we are sharing their journey and emotions. Making every new character a different story.

No matter how many books are written, there will always be new characters, like there will always be new humans. In old books, the culture of their time is reflected in the writing, like it or not, and they grow stale and anachronistic. Regardless of the setting; fantasy or reality or scifi, in the past, future, or present, new readers want characters that feel like they feel, and the further the book recedes into the past, the less likely that is.

A story needs a plot like a person needs a skeleton. Absolutely a necessity, and yes, skeletons are all very similar with differences hardly worth mentioning: We can classify them all into roughly two types; male and female. Or go further and subdivide skeletons into more classifications like child and adults, broken or missing parts. But when there is flesh on and in the skeleton, it matters less and what we care about is that flesh, what it looks like, what it thinks and says, and that is what is truly unique about every person: That flesh. And that is what is truly unique about every book: Not the plot skeleton, but (in good writing) the unique characters that are the flesh on those bones, the unique puzzle they must solve.

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    How did we manage to answer 2 minutes apart, with almost the same answer, and both reference Benedict Cumberbatch? – Mike.C.Ford Jun 5 '18 at 10:18
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    @Mike.C.Ford I guess both responding to the same blatantly false claim, and certainly Benedict playing Sherlock in a new modern setting, as a late baby boomer / early millennial, is an excellent instance of making an old character new again. Certainly the original Sherlock, growing up in modern times, would be capable of hacking cell phones, and like the American modern reboot Elementary, would know how to track people online and would participate in online forums. I'd say we both have an appreciation for excellent work! – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Jun 5 '18 at 10:39
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    I would add as a fun bit of trivia that I saw Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller play Dr Frankenstein/ Frankenstein's Monster in a theater production, where they alternated the roles each night. It seems a play can be completely new when all the conditions remain identical, but only 2 actors switch roles. So if such a small change in the exact same stage production, or basing Sherlock Holmes in modern day London/New York can reflect a significant shift in the story, then there really is an infinite amount of books that can be written. – Mike.C.Ford Jun 5 '18 at 10:57
  • @Mike.C.Ford I'm so jealous! I wanted to see that SO badly but missed it. I think they filmed it and sometimes it comes to cinemas... ooh October it's coming again!! – GGx - Reinstate Monica Cellio Jun 5 '18 at 11:18
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    @Mike.C.Ford Ha! Not only fun for the actors, but an awesome way to sell everyone two tickets to the same play! And you are right, the principle holds even in extremum: Same script, setting, play times 24 hrs apart, same audience and just switching roles, a fresh take on the story. Because characters are what matter; every Frankenstein & Monster are unique even with such a minor change in voice and non-verbal attitude. That would've been cool to see... – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Jun 5 '18 at 11:33
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Reading a book or even dozens of them will never provide the same joy that producing your own will do. All books fall somewhat short of what you might have done had the idea been yours. They're restricted to the thoughts, ideas, plots and characters of someone else's imagination. Your own stories are free and boundless.

My first novel, a 130,000 word tome sits printed out on the edge of my desk. I gave up trying to get an agent for it after a number of rejections but the joy I get from looking at that pile of paper still far outweighs any joy I get from reading someone else's pile.

My 130,000 word tome!

When I wrote my second book, I decided to give myself a break from weighty tomes and just write something fun. I loved every second of spinning that yarn and the characters became so alive in my mind that I couldn't do bad things to them without crying! Submitting that second book, having learned so much from producing the first, was a different experience entirely and I was swept up into the clouds (for a while anyway) by the response I received from agents. I wouldn't trade that trip into the clouds for anything in the world, no matter how hard the falls have been since.

Why bother? Bother because telling your stories, speaking from your heart is fun, cathartic, and joyful. Finishing a novel is one heck of an achievement, so many people try and fail. As writers, we get so caught up in the need for our work to be validated externally that we forget the joy it brings internally. But, wow, when you do get that external validation, it's one hell of a rocket ride into the stars.

Don't NOT do it because this industry is hard - it is hard - but don't focus on that part. DO it because if you don't, you'll spend the rest of your life wondering what might have happened if you did, and wishing you had.

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    I read the first line: Reading a book or even dozens of them will never provide the same joy that producing your own will and thought will was testemant :), – Display name Jun 5 '18 at 12:20
  • Ha ha ha... yes, not sure the two times I've done that were joyful on either occasion!! – GGx - Reinstate Monica Cellio Jun 5 '18 at 13:35
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By far not all has been written. Sure, there is a limited amount of patterns, but there is an infinite amount of stories to use them for and all the stories are new variations on the patterns.

What motivated me was a simple problem:
I'm looking since years for books in the style of David Weber's Honorverse, which is a series I enjoy despite some of the flaws (Mary Sue Protagonist, Deus Ex Machinas, ...). I've read dozens of books that have been suggested to me and none of them were actually similar. Sure, they were military sci-fi, but they all were too different in style and scope. One morning I thought to myself, well, if no one else is writing something in the style I like, I guess I'll have to do it myself.

I'm trying writing, because the stories I want to read haven't been done before. I want a story that combines political intrigue, grand strategy, a war where people on neither side are actually evil, and, not the least, big fleets shooting each other in a manner approaching hard sci-fi but not too hard. I also don't want the Mary Sue Characters and Deus Ex Machinas from Weber. No one else has written that, despite the thousands of sci-fi books that have already been written, which is - to me - proof enough that not everything has been written yet, there are still plenty of stories left to tell.

I'm currently more in a writers block because I discovered that I'm actually an awful writer, though for that there are already plenty of tips on this SE that I'll eventually follow :)

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My personal creative mantra is cribbed straight from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya:

If it doesn't already exist, I should just make it myself.

To the best of my knowledge, nobody has ever written a story combining the "save our school by forming a club" set-up of Love Live, with the pure destructive thrill of robot combat (complete with obligatory anime tournament arc). So I'm writing one, because I think it would be awesome.

Of course, as you noted, it's impossible to be completely original these days. If I had a dollar for every time I was watching something and thought, "That's basically [character] from [one of my stories]!", I'd be set for life. So I have my own corollary:

If it does already exist, I can just make my own version.

No two characters, and no two stories, will ever be exactly the same. On those many occasions where I come across a character that resembles one of mine, I try to focus on the differences between them, rather than the similarities. Sure, one of my characters has a very similar personality, lifestyle, and skill set to Futaba Sakura from Persona 5. But nobody can ever accuse me of ripping her off because their physical appearances and character arcs are absolutely nothing alike.

And finally, the most important thing to remember: writing a story that's original is nowhere near as important as writing a story that's actually good. Someone's already written a story similar to the one you want to write? Make a better one.

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I don't think that everything has been done already. There are so many possibilities that one can do.

There was once Tolkien, who made Elves and Dwarves popular. Then we have Lovecraft with Cthulhu and so many else. I only think that the limits of creation are set by people themselves.

Personally I doubt my arts could perform to create something new. Maybe in around 20 years I can try to do that, but not now. People who read fantasy or fiction long after new things. Try to create a new race, make a Background for them and make a story of it. Limits are meant to be broken.

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Actually, every fiction book is the same. Check out "The Hero with a Thousand Faces"- it explains the base concept behind any story. The details is all that differ. And it's not only about books. Movies, computer games, paintings, music- in every art genre there is a common idea. So, why do we still listen to the same music? Why do we read the same book about heroes and adventures? Because we are humans- we still love the same things we loved 1000 years ago. I mean Odyssey was written long ago, but you can "upgrade" the story or make your own version of it and it would sell.

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What techniques? I can give you some ideas, at least.

  1. Just remember - it hasn't all been done before, and it never will be. This is the precise reason why new books are written and new music is played. The writers/artists feel that the current canon is irrelevant or not sufficiently expressive of their personal situation, era or understanding. In many cases, new material exists because the current material is simply seen as inadequate. Particularly, new material is created because little material is seen as companionable enough.

  2. Remember that you are an individual. No-one has been you before, or will be you again. And no-one can understand, interpret, enjoy or feel things the way you do. In this way the art you create will be distinctive and unique.

I'll give you an analogy from the software world. You can download executable files and run them on your machine. They don't change from executable to executable, your version will be the same as mine. They'll run fine, do their job fine but you may get the odd crash. Or you can compile a program which will then be tailored specifically for your hardware and run better, smoother and more effectively. It's the same with writing. It's great to read the work of others but it may not be specific enough for you - if you write something, it will be personal and expressive to your situation.

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