Does it matter that there are no new stories in the world? This isn’t with reference to the idea that there are only a few distinct plot lines; rather, this is to think on whether everything that could have been written has, in some form or another, already been written. Don’t take that as a negative: on the contrary, this is a celebration of the recurring power of the stories that we tell.
Is everything we construct already first constructed elsewhere? In the arts there are trails of homage and foundation: Classical architecture has been extensively drawn upon in later design, film often relies heavily on previous visual references, fashion cycles round in reinterpretations of what has gone before, and so on. All of the stories of our cultures are woven not just in words but in stone, in moving images, in fabric, and so forth.
Yet, everything must start somewhere, so where is the kernel of every story of us? We will never know. Stories are like dust: they swirl and then, when they’re light enough and lit by time, they appear to fall into the sky. Before the written word, stories were breathed and known as such. Then, somewhere along the line, stories became of the conscious realm only when read in words.
What we have now is a desire for the new, the seemingly inspired, the fresh or quirky. What we’ve forgotten is that the dust of all the stories ever told still swirls high and low above our heads. Every story we open up allows some of this dust to fall into its pages. We often don’t see this. We think: this is new, or inspired, fresh or quirky; this is something no-one has ever felt or seen or touched upon before. We’re wrong here because we all draw from the dust to glitter in the sunlight in the air.
If we’re conscious of what we allow in when we open up our stories — in the careful slicing of their first lines — we can build in layers of great depth. We can weave in and build on our local social geographies, the legends of our cultures, the archetypes of the world. We can manage our words instead of stumbling accidentally on some significance in its writing. Conscious comprehension of what has gone before is a layering in itself.
Stories are surely greatest when they’re conscious stirrings in their reading. Even the simplest, barest, most succinct of tales can be beautiful in its layers of possibility. It is the story that leaves us blank that is the story written without love of what has fallen into it. We’ve all read plenty of these, though we don’t recall them individually and specifically.
Does it matter that there are no new stories in the world? All stories are part of the greater whole; yet it is only those stories written with an inkling, or a depth comprehension, of what has fallen into them that shine greatly. Our words are of the sunlit dust, as are our stories of stone, of moving images, of fabric, and so on and on.
(In keeping with the theme above, words are written here building on — though not intentionally opposed to — the thinking in a recent piece: A World Seven Billion Stories Deep, at the Very Least).