Breaking Through the Archetype

The debate goes on over how many stories actually exist. It is said that contemporary writers can only produce spins on the basic story types. In other words, no matter how ingenious a writer is, even a great writer can only write a reproduction of a story contrived years ago.

Boy Meets Girl

Good versus Evil

The Good Ol’ Comedy

The debate actually gets a little more in depth, but that’s the gist. Some writers feel certain that we’ve exhausted every angle of the Boy Meets Girl story type. Any story that comes out now is only a spin-off of a story already told.

Sometimes, writers are correct. I mean, how many different ways can you tell Cinderella? And they keep coming. The trend these days is to make the story more real. I grew up on a cartoon version that interested me very little since I was into GI Joe and the Superheroes. But, recent stories of Cinderella have told a less magical, more realistic type of story that makes the audience think that the story could actually be true.

This trend has taken place with such stories as Snow White, Beauty and the Beast and The Wizard of Oz. Writers attempt to make the story come to life with realistic characters and a realistic story line. It’s the absolute reversal of years ago when the audience was hungry for fairy tales to escape the daily life.

Good versus Evil is also a concept the writers can’t seem to get away from at all. But, Good versus Evil is always welcome in every story. In fact, most audiences are geared to spot the conflict from the beginning. The story really can’t work without a Good versus Evil scenario.

But, writers are trying. They look at an archetype of a story structure and try to play with it. The anti-romance is a byproduct of this type of thinking. If romance is a beautiful story where boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy stalks girl until she gives into his advances, girl gets whisked away on horseback into the sunset, then the anti-romance would offer us a complete reversal. It would read more like boy meets girl and she breaks his will to live, he attempts suicide hundreds of times until finally he is placed into an insane asylum where he is drugged heavily every day and all he can think about is the girl who by now has met someone and fallen in love, had several children and is abundantly happy, which makes boy ever more dark and depressed.

Knowing that archetypal structures exist in literature, the challenge then becomes a journey of discovering the absolute different story. But, what would it take to accomplish such a thing? It’s not as easy as you think.

And I mean think about it! Romeo and Juliet has been done. It’s not always in the form of Romeo meets Juliet, they fall in love in their secret meetings, Juliet pretends to commit suicide causing Romeo to commit suicide which causes Juliet to commit suicide and Verona returns to normal. No, Romeo and Juliet often comes in the form of Tony and Maria in the streets of New York City.

How many different ways can the hero save the damsel in distress? How many different ways can a feud erupt between warring peoples? And, how many different ways can we tell the story about Cinderella?

The true questions dive a bit deeper. Can a writer contrive a story that is absolutely unique? Would it mean that all of the former story telling techniques would have to be abandoned? Would such a story even be interesting to us?