The story that most of us live

As a writer, I was disappointed to learn that there are no new stories. My original plan was always to write a story that would make me filthy rich – but more important, it would convince everyone on earth that we need to live differently in some way. My story would change civilization.

Cut me a break, I was twelve.

The point is, I can’t write a story like that. All timeless stories about humankind have already been written (and ironically, many of the writers made no money on them and achieved no fame during their lifetimes, and generally had terrible lives). They are the stories about falling in love, going on long journeys, and killing dragons. Coming afterward, writers are left to retell different versions of them. Once a generation or so, a story shoots to fame when someone successfully hides the fact that they’re copying something thousands of years old.

Except Fifty Shades of Grey. That’s totally original, 100 percent new material we have never seen before.

All stories – original or not – have something in common: there’s always a problem that seems impossible, but which the main character has to overcome – within herself, within society, or against nature. In children’s stories, the problem is straightforward: a main character has to fight a dragon. She searches for the dragon, fights it, and defeats evil. She returns to her city, which is filled with parades and rainbows to welcome her back.

Sometime after childhood – or for some people, during childhood – we learn that dragons are not as easy to fight as we thought. Our grown-up stories have to adapt to this grey area. A main character is attacked by a dragon on her way to work, but she is unarmed against it. She blacks out after a big blow to the head.

When she wakes up, she is perched a thousand miles away on the edge of a cliff. She looks down to see that she was half-eaten by the dragon and she has no map to get home. In that story, we watch her as she bandages herself, listen to her as she talks herself through her own healing, and see what she makes of herself in a world that looks different to her now.

She finds that after being half-eaten, she has much scarier things to fight than dragons. People stare at her mangled frame while she walks down the street. Her bosses don’t expect that she’ll be able to get things done with only one arm. She has to fight for everything she has, forever after.

It’s the same story of overcoming, but not by killing a dragon. It’s being forever changed by something, and finding a way around it so that we can go on. Living with our scars and bite marks, and deciding whether to show them to others or cover them up. It’s the story of redemption, the truest human story in western culture.

It is the story that most of us live. And because we are living it, we don’t always see the beauty in it. We just face the hardship, whatever it is, and move on. As a writer, that’s why it’s so hard to tell it in a new way: it is just normal. It’s the way life is.

That’s why there are no new stories. Because for thousands of years, we have spent much of our lives fighting to succeed after being half-eaten by a dragon in our past. 

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