You sit down in front of your blank computer screen, and you begin: “Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy finds girl.”
No, no, no, you groan as you bang your head against the keyboard. It’s all been done before. Well, kind of. Let’s face it, a lot of what we as writers do is tell many of the same stories over and over again. What keeps the readers coming back for more, though, is how we tell these stories.
Did you grow up as a single child or in a family of five? Were your folks affluent, or did you learn the value of a penny at an early age? Inner city or Marysville, Ohio? Go to church every Sunday/only on the “high holidays”/or never? Move on immediately to college or drop out of high school?
As you can see, every writer’s journey is different and therefore every story we have to tell is different. Sure, the plot may have been around the block a few times, but it’s in the telling – your own, unique perspective – that the work really gets its wheels under it and speeds the reader off into exotic unknown, or else reassuringly familiar, places.
Back in the mid-1500’s an Italian writer by the name of Matteo Bandello was penning novellas (never mind that he lifted his ideas from French, Eastern and classical tales before him). One of these pieces caught the eye of English poet Arthur Brooke, who figured he could give the piece a spin, and so he loosely translated Bandello’s work into a little ditty he entitled, “The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet.”
Now, I just bet you know where we go from here. Along comes this cat named Shakespeare. Like a master chef, he takes a smidge of Bandello, tosses in some comedic relief and a couple ne’er do well sidekicks and you have a Romeo and Juliet soufflé.
But it doesn’t end there! Not even close. Fast forward to America about four hundred or so years later. In this incarnation, a writer by the name of Arthur Laurents revisits our friends, Romeo and Juliet, only this time, it’s the 1950’s, the feud is with newly immigrated Puerto Ricans, and did I mention it’s all set to music and danced (thanks to the vision of Jerome Robbins). Voila! West Side Story.
Been there, done that? Hardly!
What does your version look like? Is Romeo bald? Ride a Harley? How about your Juliet? Does she resemble the barista at your favorite coffee house, piercings and all? Maybe smoke clove cigarettes? Where do they meet and fall in love? Is it at the bowling alley? Or maybe on a cruise for Senior Citizens? (Hey, I kind of like that last one…)
In the end, interpretation is often just as important as idea. So is “boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy finds girl,” the end of the story? Nope, it’s just the beginning.