Nothing is original

“The writer Jonathan Lethem has said that when people call something original, nine out of ten times they just don’t know the references or the original sources involved.”

I once heard that all stories can be broken down to six distant types. I’ve long since lost that particular reference, but I do believe that it makes sense. Maybe six is a presumptuous number.

Certainly you can recall the Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Fate, Man vs. Society, Man vs. Machine, and Man vs. Self as the structure of all conflict in narrative storytelling. Even right there it’s broken down into six component parts, but those aren’t the same six I was referencing.

Perhaps all stories do fall under the category of the type of conflict that leads to the story’s resolution. But, even if not, most of how we approach a story is ornamentation. And beyond that, the heart of the story is the same as hundreds or thousands of stories that have come before.

The influence of filmmaker Akira Kurosawa has long been noted in cinema starting back in the age of the Spaghetti Western. Aristotle’s Poetics has been used as the basis for storytelling since first being written over two-thousand years ago. Time and again, new work relies heavily on the influences of past creators. As Picasso said, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

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