Kleptocenophobia – fear of new ideas being stolen. I’m told kleptophobia would be fear of (things) being stolen, and cenophobia is fear of new ideas. So a mangled mashup of Latin could be Kleptocenophobia, bringing the two together to be pithy about a reoccurring problem among newbie storytellers.
One of the most common ‘issues’ new writers have is that they don’t want their idea ‘stolen’. They don’t want to say too much about their secret plan for their secret plot, which is going to be totally awesome and blow everyone away. I promise you, whatever the idea is, whatever lengths you think you’ve gone to figure out something completely original, it’s been done before. A lot of new writers are then usually crushed. Many give up or let this ‘road block’ delay them for months, even years, in continuing on the writing journey. They feel they can’t proceed unless they have something completely fresh to go forward with.
Here’s the deal. Everything has been done. Everything. Yes that. And that too. Trust me, it’s all been done. Look at this:
And a link that explains the episode of South Park this clip comes from. As Trey and Matt explain in the episode, Simpsons has been on the air for decades. Each season full of twenty plus episodes. 20 * 20 is at least 400 concepts, plus sub concepts, plus the extras that come from the actual numbers (Simpsons is actually approaching thirty years I think now, and the episodes per season are really something like 26 or 28 per, so the 400 balloons enormously when you plug the true data into its equation). And Simpsons is just one tv show, out of thousands in the past few decades. And is just considering tv; what about movies, and books, and cartoons, and comics, and, and, and, and?
It’s all been done. That many people, making that much content, have mined the deepest depths of everything and put it on screen / page / whatever.
New writers who are now shaking their heads at me, determined that it is possible to come up with a new idea, try this on for size.
It’s okay. Really. No one holds a ‘lack of original plot’ against you. Not as long as the story is told creatively and with great creative energy. People, readers, actually do like a certain amount of sameness in their storytelling. Such familiarity provides structure and gives them something to anchor themselves to as they proceed through the story. And, to be blunt, there’s really no other way storytelling can work.
I’m not going to dig for the exact number, but humanity is on something like six thousand years of recorded history as I write this. Storytelling is probably older than fire, because part of dealing with the human condition is the need for mental release; storytelling provides that. Raise your hand if you honestly think it’s possible to be more creative than the collective human race, who’ve had six millennia to out think you? Yeah, I didn’t think so. And it’s okay. Really.
There’s a thing in Hollywood called the Elevator Pitch. Sometimes it’s called the log line. The way it goes is to boil the concept for a movie or proposed movie down into something that can be pithily thrown around the room in just a few moments. Avatar is “Dances with Wolves on an alien planet.” Titanic is “Romeo and Juliette on a sinking ship.” Let’s get away from James Cameron examples. Speed was “Die Hard on a Bus.” Alien was “Jaws on a spaceship.” And this sort of thing comes around on itself; we have Crank that is “Speed in a person.”
This is done because in Hollywood, as on the traditional side of publishing, the gatekeepers get hundreds of proposals every day. They’re looking for any excuse to shake their head and move on to the next rejection. You have to grab their attention in an instant, get them intrigued enough to let you move to your longer pitch, when then hopefully leads to your detailed pitch, which then leads to your hour or two long meeting where deals can start being contemplated. But none of that happens if you make them not shake their head. So familiar concepts are used to describe your idea in an instant.
“We have this bus, and it can’t slow down or a bomb on it will go off, and there’s hostages on the bus, and . . .” see, you’ve already lost the guy a ways back.
“It’s Die Hard on a bus.” Die Hard was a successful movie. Lots of people like it. Let’s do that on a bus, yeah, that has possibilities. And you’re off and running.
Incidentally, this same quick explanation process is part of what goes into writing good marketing blurbs. When you answer the question “what’s your book about.” Another problem new writers have is they go on and on and on when asked that question. Don’t do that. People want the quick answer. If they like the quick answer, they’ll ask for more detail. So your book has to be boiled down, and sold in a sentence. I can hear the newbies’ teeth gnashing from here. It’s okay. Your opus is still awesome; but it still needs to be boiled down for effect. Or no one reads it.
When less novice writers shake their heads at newbies over the concept of “the idea must be utterly original”, it’s because we know it’s next to impossible. I suppose it does occasionally happen, but even those supposedly new ideas are often just clever twists on old ones. But if your goal is to be new and fresh, if you can’t proceed along your writing path unless your end point is a thing that hasn’t been done, less than a fraction of a fraction of a percent of you will ever start walking. And that’s no way to become a writer.
Good writing is the art of being creative. And creativity doesn’t demand total originality; it just requires innovative execution. Scream took the ‘tired horror movie trope’ and made that trope the point of the movie, and that was ‘clever and original’. It technically wasn’t, under the dictionary definition, but that didn’t matter; because hardly anyone goes around with a dictionary pedantically reviewing everything against the letter of the definition. Scream manipulated a very familiar thing – the horror movie ‘formula’ – in creative ways that let the audience be part of the joke, invited us to share in the nudge-nudge-wink-wink. That made it creative. That made it original. Not because it had never been done, but because it was taking things that had been done and putting a spin and polish on them that worked.
I suppose, if one wants to be overly tiresome, creativity in the modern content industry could be defined as finding an idea that hasn’t been done in a while, in long enough for the audience to have basically more or less forgotten about it. I think that definition probably does hold some merit, but still misses the point. That doesn’t mean it’s entirely wrong, but it still leaves so much unacknowledged, still leaves so much not understood. When you want to be ‘creative’, when you’re sitting down to come up with what you’re going to do for your story, your goal should be coming up with something you can execute with style and jazz. Yes, I said jazz. Nothing’s wrong with jazz. In fact, it’s a good analogy for this. Jazz is a musical art that primarily focuses on improvising within the existing framework understood as ‘jazz’. And that’s what we’re talking about here when we talk about creativity. Improvising withing a known framework.
Time code 1:12. If I haven’t mentioned it before, Toy Story is my favorite, my very favorite, movie of all time. Period. And moving past being just an audience member, everything you need to know about how to tell a great story is in Toy Story. The climax of the movie involves the famous line:
This isn’t flying. This is falling, with style.
That’s my elevator pitch for, my log line to explain, creativity. The art of being creative is to execute with style. When you do that, you’re being creative, and the rest is just execution.