Will We Ever Run Out of Original Plotlines? 

by Jessica Wang

If it feels like you’ve “heard this one before,” that’s because you likely did.

Today’s films take place in every setting imaginable: inside buildings, outside in the desert, up in outer space, and in places that do not exist. The current set of characters used in films thus far already represents all of the conceivable types, such as the funny one, the ambitious one, the one set on revenge, and so on. One story’s themes are often repeated across many other stories. These are all components that can affect a plot, however there can be only so many combinations, right? With approximately 605,284 movies and 222,655 TV series listed on IMDB as of this year, we should have covered as many plotlines as possible. Following behind titled films, books—specifically fiction books—add an additional weight to the sum of existing plotlines. Based on a 2017 attempt by the Stanford Literary Lab to provide an accurate count, it is estimated that nearly 19 million fiction books have been published in English. With that many stories, have you ever felt that some feel similar to each other? That’s not a singular phenomenon. 

Storytelling dates back to humans in the Paleolithic period—more than 30,000 years ago—so there is little that can truly be “new” about it (Mendoza). This helps to explain why similar storylines and plots seem to repeat so frequently. Most stories fall into one of seven categories: overcoming the monster, rags to riches, the quest, voyage and return, rebirth, comedy, and tragedy. Because most stories fall into one of these seven categories, the reader will come to realize that there is not an infinite array of different storylines as one might think. Series such as The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Harry Potter all have something in common. The main characters are the typical “special ones,” and they go on adventures that test their values, bravery, and resilience. These three popular stories are examples of the quest archetype.

But will we ever run out of original plotlines? It should come as no surprise that we may have already. This is because most stories draw from one of the seven archetypes at the core. We are not really pioneering brand new plotlines, instead building up new stories from the same basic categories. Looking at the bright side, however, that does not mean that two stories with the exact same plotline 

cannot differ from each other. It is the collective responsibility of all authors to add artistic variations that provide fresh life to recycled storylines.

We get our story ideas from the real world. Reality has a limited number of things we can recreate from, so with stories being either an imitation of the real world or imagination of the real world, we also only have a limited number of ideas. Sooner or later, we will have exhausted all the ideas and only be able to reuse and modify previous stories.

About Jessica Wang

Jessica Wang is a first year business student at Bradley University. Born in New York and currently living in Peoria, she is a lover of making impactful storytelling, drawing, exploring Peoria, playing piano, and eating sushi. She has participated in activities like freshflim and has over 200 hours of volunteer work.

About Faith Marie

Faith Marie is a homeschooled 18 year old freshman at Ashworth College. She enjoys nature, rainy days, and her pet dog and snails. She has an abundance of love for Jesus and people of all kinds. The idea of creating art that has never existed before inspires her. You can find her on Instagram at @faithmariedraws or on tiktok at @_faitha.