Well readhead: There’s Nothing New Under the Sun
The other day at dinner, my friends and I were discussing the Ten Commandments. It’s party, party, party when you roll with my posse.
My friend George claimed that God originally made Eleven Commandments, but that one of the tablets was smashed so only ten were left (the actual Bible story is that there were two lots of Commandments; Moses smashed the first batch in anger and then a second series were produced). Whatever the facts, George’s story excited me enormously.
“I’ve got a great idea for a movie!” I cried. “The Eleventh Commandment! What if it wasn’t really smashed and there was a race to find it, like secret treasure?”
I envisaged an Indiana Jones style adventure romp, in which Professor Jones battles some bad guys in a race to uncover the original - now priceless - tablet in a dusty Middle Eastern cave.
I raced home and excitedly googled “The Eleventh Commandment”. And that’s when I discovered that Jeffrey Archer already wrote a book by that title in 1999. In fact, Lord Archer wasn’t the first. Melville Shavelson wrote “The Eleventh Commandment” in 1977. And before him, there was Lester de Rey’s “The Eleventh Commandment” in 1962. I don’t think the plots are the same as mine. But the idea of building a story around “The Eleventh Commandment” is far from an original thought.
George and I have form with this sort of disappointment. He once told me about an idea he had for a film in which a 100 year old talking parrot, a macaw formerly belonging to a pirate, knew the route to some secret treasure. We even came up with a great title: ‘Parrots of the Caribbean’. Imagine our horror when we discovered that not only had a film with a virtually identical plot already been made, it had an even better title: ‘The Real Macaw’.
George and I aren’t the only ones to be stymied on the great ideas front. My friend Melissa one day confided that she was thinking of patenting a new font.
“You know how when you write an email to somebody it can be hard to read the tone of it?” she asked. “How sometimes you’re not sure if they’re being serious or sarcastic?”
“Well when you’re being sarcastic, you could write it in my new font. It’ll be called sarcastica.”
I thought it was a stroke of genius. We spent about an hour brainstorming just what sarcastica would look like and decided it needed to be sort of ‘drippy’ (as in dripping with sarcasm).
Later, we googled ‘sarcastica font’ and discovered there were 5,600 search results. Blogs are dedicated to the subject. So much for that.
It’s tempting to think that it’s impossible to come up with anything original before somebody else does. But that thought too would be highly unoriginal. It dates back to the third century. The Bible’s Book of Ecclesiastes, 1:9-10:
What has been will be again,
What has been done will be done again,
There is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
It was here before our time.
I’m almost scared to google ‘Well-read Head’ now, in case I find some ranga in Ireland has writing under this title for decades.
Here are this week’s ten interesting things to read, watch or listen to. You’ve probably seen them all before:
1. Check out this comparison between the plots of ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’.
2. In a similar vein, MTV catalogues the similarities between ‘Avatar’ and ‘Dances with Wolves’.
3. One of the reasons story plots can seem similar is because they are often follow the so-called “Hero’s Journey”, a term first coined by Joseph Campbell in his book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”. His basic premise is that almost all stories follow the ancient patterns of myths. This website provides quite a clear overview of the nine steps Campbell believes comprise most decent three-act stories.
4. There’s inadvertently coming up with the same idea as somebody else; then there’s plagiarism. Malcolm Gladwell’s writing is always highly engaging and in this 2004 piece from The New Yorker, he looks at the way a charge of plagiarism can affect somebody’s life.
5. Perhaps plagiarism will never be a problem if you follow these rules for writing fiction, suggested by some of the greatest living writers.
6. It’s not just books or films of course that can seem similar – this you tube clip pairs songs that sound remarkably alike.
7. In my humble opinion, this may be the best opening to a TV show ever. Hats off to Henry Mancini for the flawless theme song.
8. The Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg really shook up the British election campaign. He may have one of the most intriguing aunts ever: Baroness, Moura Budberg.
9. We have met the enemy and he is Power Point – a great New York Times article looking at the way Power Point is driving US military officials mad (via @asunderland on twitter)
10. The Huffington Post has compiled some of the most unintentionally-sexual book covers.
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