Even this discussion isn’t new. I know that if I were to run a Google search using this header, the question wouldn’t be new. But I don’t even have to search to know that I’m not the very first person to ask this question. And I know that I won’t be the last.
When you pull back all the layers and strip it down to the basics, most things are derivative. But if you look at the definition of “new” (as found on Google) – “Not existing before; made, introduced, or discovered recently or now for the first time…” – it is subject to interpretation. Especially the first part of the definition.
Because something that hasn’t existed before could mean something brand new as in the very first of something, like the first story ever told. And therefore all stories that come after aren’t new. It could mean the first of its kind, like the first vampire story ever told. So that all subsequent vampire stories aren’t new.
Or it could be taken to such a level of specificity to mean something that didn’t exist before and now does. Like a particular book, i.e., Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. One day it wasn’t and one day it was. So, unless someone were to duplicate a book with the exact words and the exact title, each and every book written would be a new book. One that never existed before.
But most of us don’t go to the extremes. We aren’t so rigid as to think that nothing is truly new. Take ourselves, for example. We like to think of ourselves as individuals. Many of us like to think of ourselves as unique. We like to think we’re new and have something new to contribute. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be offering our thoughts and opinions. We wouldn’t be writing stories or articles or posts. Everything would be a “been there, done that” and so our voice wouldn’t matter.
And on the flip side of that coin, we aren’t so open to believing that every little thing created is something new. That each of the fifty thousand books in a print run is a new and unique thing, though technically each one is. That changing a book’s cover makes it a new book. That simply calling a post by a “new” name makes it a new idea. Or by paraphrasing a review makes it a new review.
But it’s all that “stuff” in the middle that is subject to interpretation, debate and often argument. The writer of a book will say that they wrote a story that is new and not one that’s an archetype of another. It’s their voice, their characters, their creation. They put that string of words together in just that way that is all theirs. It’s new. It’s no one else’s. It doesn’t matter that it has a common theme, familiar characters or elements contained within another story. No one shares their brain, their exact way of thinking, speaking and writing. No one has their imagination.
And this is true of any creator, writer, artist. Of anyone. Each person is an individual. No one brings the same experiences to the page, screen, canvas or other medium. No one has the exact same thought process. Sure, similarities may exist, but no two people are identical. Even twins.
So if all these stories are new stories, then why do readers often bemoan the lack of something new? And for those who argue that there are no new ideas, how can they expect the stories to be new?
Is it the deluge of books with similar genres and similar storylines released at the same time that takes away from the newness of a story? How many dystopian settings are too many? How many tales of the undead will make readers feel as if they’re reading the same story over and over?
Maybe it’s not genre or story. Perhaps it is simply the lack of creativity or an overused element, i.e., the love triangle, within each story that makes these stories indistinguishable from one another to some readers. The concept of the love triangle is most certainly not new. There are many readers who claim to be tired of that dynamic within a story. But are they truly tired of the love triangle or is it just that the author hasn’t created interesting enough characters, enough drama, enough excitement or enough tension to make that love triangle appealing?
Could it boil down to a lack of excitement that we, as readers, feel when reading a similarly themed story that makes the story feel stale and repetitive instead of new? Is it our emotional response, or lack thereof, to something we read that makes us choose just how we define it?
When we read a story that we connect with, get caught up in, fall in love with, we don’t pick that story apart to see just how many comparisons we can make. We don’t notice the common themes. We don’t notice the similar structures. We experience that story as if it were new. We don’t call that story unoriginal. Even if by a strict reading of the definition it is.
We call it unique. We call it original. We say that it’s new. Because it feels new. Not because it is new.
And we like the idea of new. New brings excitement. New offers possibilities. New brings inspiration for ideas, thoughts and creativity.
If things weren’t new, or didn’t feel new, we wouldn’t be spending money on non-essentials. We wouldn’t be trading in our first love for the next one. We wouldn’t covet the latest and greatest car/phone/computer/handbag. We wouldn’t be buying new books to read. We wouldn’t be taking a chance on new authors.
So, is there really anything new? Maybe not in the strictest form of the definition. Maybe not to those who are world-weary or so jaded by life that everything feels redundant. Maybe not to those who like to pass off others’ ideas as their own. Maybe not to those who can’t find inspiration to create.
But for those who live in the world of “new to me,” who thrill to the excitement of something “new,” who see originality as a challenge to accept and not an impossibility, there is such a thing as new. And to them, many, many things are new.
And then there are those somewhere in between. Those who recognize that some things are in fact new, some things only feel that way and some things are overused, repetitive and worn out.
Instead of splitting hairs on what defines “new,” perhaps the argument can change. Maybe we’re getting too hung up on the word “new.” We’re arguing for the sake of arguing. Maybe there aren’t “new” stories. Maybe there aren’t “new” ideas. Maybe nothing is “new” or has been “new” for a long, long time. And maybe that’s okay.
Maybe the word we’re really looking for is “different.” Different ideas to draw inspiration from. Different stories to get lost in. Different characters to fall in love with/weep over/hate. Maybe we’re looking to be taken to a place that feels different than a place we’ve been before, even if it’s not a new place. Different may not be new, but it feels a lot like it.
So, while the debate rages on whether or not there is really anything new, is there any room for debate as to whether there is anything different?