The Life and Death of an Original Story

The author writes a novel. The screenwriter finishes a script. Both are enchanting stories with incredible characters. Neither are like anything previously conceived. With the printed pages collected in the creator’s hands, the writers sit back, pleased and proud. The story is theirs at the moment—only theirs—but tomorrow they will show others their work. Tomorrow they will hand their stories off to the world. The publisher stays up all night reading this author’s manuscript. She is ecstatic. Yes, she thinks, Yes! This is what we need. This is what our readers need. A Hollywood studio insists that this screenplay will be at the center of every conversation. It’s engrossing, they say. It’s full of passion. People won’t want to leave the theater!

Soon the novel is on bookshelves and the author is touring the country. “Where did you get the inspiration for this story?” fans ask. “How did you make something so great?” The book appears in The New York Times and in everyone’s must read list. It’s safe to say the novel is a hit. The author can almost hear thousands of pages of their book being turned.

There’s some buzz surrounding the announcement of a new movie. People ponder at the unique plot. This could be interesting, they think. And I love who they cast. When the movie is finally released, their expectations are exceeded. People can’t get enough of it. Critics praise the film and movie theaters sell out. It’s genius, people say. Oscar-worthy! The screenwriter goes to bed every night, smiling.

The novel wins some awards and the screenplay is nominated several times. Both creations have gathered a following of hardcore, inquisitive fans. They tweet questions at the creators. What happened to this person? Can you explain this worldly phenomenon? But why, oh why, did that have to happen? The fans illustrate their favorite characters and write short stories about them. Every night, the author and the screenwriter spend hours pouring through this fan art. I caused this, they think to themselves. They love my characters as much as I do. When a person stops them on the street and says, “Your story changed my life,” they respond by saying, “Well, you changed mine.”

But rather than settling down into this warmly established actuality, other creators—authors, screenwriters, studios—grasp onto the originality of these stories. This is what people want, they think. So they push it. They push it well past its limit, drawing from the originality until there is none left, creating franchises and tired fans along the way.

The phenomenon of  “making copies rather than something new” is becoming more and more common. The list of examples is endless. Star Wars is not only in the midst of a new trilogy, but has planned “subplot” movies such as the upcoming Rogue One movie and the announced young Han Solo film. Pirates of the Caribbean is starting to market its fifth installment. The success of Jurassic World will result in a trilogy. Despite the perfect ending in Toy Story 3, a fourth animated adventure is planned. Disney is remaking all of their classics in the live-action style. And even though J.K. Rowling told us Pottermania would end with the final installment of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, November 18 marked the release of the first of five films in the new Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Potter-based series.

Hollywood seems to have taken an oath swearing by the words of Mae West: “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.” But unfortunately, this is usually not the case. Though remakes and reboots are not always bad—Ghostbusters managed its way to the big screen once again, this time starring an all female cast, and it was incredible—more often than not, these films feel tired when they’re supposed to feel fresh, new, or modern.

All of these movies—prequels, sequels, remakes, reboots, franchises, and spin-offs—prove that it’s easier to try and resell something than it is to make something new. This diminishes the power of original creations and lowers the expectations of the movie’s viewers. They walk in not expecting something wholly original or captivating, but walk in wanting to see their favorite characters do something cool or to explore a fictional world a bit more.

This is most evident in the Marvel movie franchises, where it feels as though the superhuman/superpower theme has been nearly sucked dry of original concepts. But people keep returning to the theater to take stock of their favorite actors portraying their favorite characters, ensuring that nothing horrible happened to their “babies.” Marvel has recognized the power behind this, and started putting superheroes together in films, further siphoning innovation from the superpower theme, as they build up to the biggest superhero “get-together” in The Avengers: Infinity War.

This phenomenon of  “copying” can also be seen in books. Divergent felt a little too much like The Hunger Games, and the influence of Harry Potter can be seen heavily in Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On. But rather than creating stories about the same characters, books frequently copy tropes and storylines. The story of Romeo and Juliet has been told in countless ways. Love triangles have become cliché. And how many times have we seen the outgoing boy save the shy girl?

It’s starting to feel like there are no new stories to tell, just old ones to remake. And while this is not a new concept—rather it’s something that dates back hundreds and hundreds of years—it does feel like the amount of remakes and reboots are more prevalent today than they were even ten years ago. Even though we love certain characters and want to know more about their adventures, the push to create more content often leaves writers struggling to produce genuine stories that feel original and cater to the personalities fans know and love. Sometimes this is not the case, and the remakes are incredible, or that story with that trope is exceptional. But more often than not, they feel lackluster. At a certain point, it becomes more about money than quality. And at a certain point, people start to say—or should start to say—enough is enough.

Art by: Sophie Peters-Wilson

A&E, In The MagazineJoanne Paquin