Monday, May 15, 2017

Nothing new . . . ???

Hello, Whispers readers. Long ago and far away, I wrote a weekly column called the Peg Board . Clever, huh? I knew you'd agree.

Amazingly, through a move half-way across the country, several computer changes, hard-drive crashes, and all that fun stuff, those old articles have remained in my files. I've had fun browsing through them recently, and I thought it would be neat to give that column a new life here on Whispers in Purple from time to time, as well as some new musings.

With that in mind, to kick this off, I found one I'd like to share ... though slightly modified from the original. Writers can do that, you know.
Solomon wrote: “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.” Ecclesiastes 1:9-10. [NIV]
It’s not the weary and despairing Solomon behind these words I’m focusing on, but the words themselves – as they apply to our writing. It has been said, or so I’ve heard, that there are only a handful of basic plots out there upon which to build a story. Chances are that if you’ve come up with a pretty good story line it’s already been done. So…what to do?

I think the trick is to take an old plot that works and make it new. By that I mean give it a totally different location, cast of characters, twist and tweak the plot some, and you’ve got a brand new old story. 

Pygmalion by Jean-Baptiste Regnault, 1786, Musée National du Château et des Trianons
For example, in an ancient Greek myth, gifted sculptor Pygmalion falls in love with his sculpture named Galatea. As the story goes, eventually the goddess Venus turns Galatea into a real woman. From that little bit, do you recognize the next incarnation? The Pygmalion story comes alive in Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion from which came the play, and then the movie My Fair Lady. Now, however, we’re no longer dealing with a sculptor and his statue, but a stuffy professor and a cheeky Cockney flower girl.

See the potential here? Can you think of other old plots that have been redone, refashioned and placed in a newer setting? One that stands out in my mind is the Old Testament story of Hosea and Gomer. Francine Rivers transformed that into a tremendously gripping novel called Redeeming Love. 

Liz Curtis Higgs has taken the story of Jacob and Esau, Leah and Rachel and woven a fictional collection of books set in 18th Century Scotland in her Lowlands of Scotland series. Delightful reading, by the way.

Myths, Bible stories, and ancient history lend themselves easily to good plots that can be set in just about any time period you choose. By bringing the story up into more modern times you really don’t have to do a whole lot of research, either. The basic plot will be there, but you’re changing everything else. All you need to know is the bare bones of the original and take it from there. 

 I say that with this caveat: The research you need depends on how closely you wish to stay in the details of the original. I imagine that Liz Higgs had her Bible open while she was writing her series. Everyone will recognize the story and the characters, but because she changed the setting to a different place and advanced the time period by a few thousand years, the whole thing changes. It is, after all, fiction.

So, next time you’re stuck for a writing idea or need a plot, think about something old and make it new! 

Can you think of an "old" story you'd love to make "new"? Do share.

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