I’m not talking clothes here. Although I do like to shop second-hand, and I love antique stores – the ultimate second-hand experience.
But what I am looking at is whether you use a brand new story-line or knowingly use a second-hand one. I don’t mean plagiarism, but rehashing an already well-known story. It’s a bit like the film ‘Pretty Woman’ which is essentially Cinderella…
Even larger plots can be broken down and the similarities shown, for example:
Good guy is thrown into a bad situation. Good guy wins first bout, bad guy destroys the good guy in the second, and then the good guy comes back to save the day.
So is this ‘Star Wars’ or the ‘Alien’ trilogy, ‘Hansel and Gretel’ or even ‘Harry Potter’? They are all written with the same spine, even if the writer wasn’t aware of it.
Is it a bad thing to recycle a plot? Well, there are those that say there are no new plots, just new characters. Except I would disagree. True there are genres but the plots can vary incredibly.
I’d like to think that all my plots are new, but if you look at them hard enough and par them back to their basics, I’m fairly certain that they would match some story or other. But they are written as new plots, I don’t copy another story-line.
I have though. In the past I’ve used fairy-tales in order to give me a spine that I can pin my characters to. Does this make the story any less than the one I assume to be a new plot? I say not.
When you knowingly use a second-hand plot, what you are trying to do is hide that plot, to disguise it so that the reader doesn’t recognize what they are seeing until the very end, if you want them too.
I think you can use both second-hand and new stories. I have experimented with both types and can safely say that I side with Angela Carter (have a look at this article) – second-hand stories can be reworked and retold to show different meanings and characters.