I’ve read many times artists talking about the original idea. They want to create some thing new and unheard of. But almost all things have been done before in one fashion or another, and almost like clockwork self-doubt will creep in. What do they do in that situation? Sean Benham talks about his personal struggles with feeling like it’s all been done before. This is an interesting read; hope you enjoy!
It’s all been done
By Sean Benham, author of Blope
The first episode of Breaking Bad scared the hell out of me, and not for the reasons you might surmise. It wasn’t the tension that did it to me, it was the similarity. At the time, I was convinced that a large portion of my debut novel, Blope, was nearly identical to that first episode. Worse yet, I was just about to wrap my novel and it was too far along to change. I had to suck up those perceived similarities and ultimately, I’m glad I did.
Looking back, having watched all the Breaking Bad there is to watch and having written all the Blope there is to write, my concern seems a little silly. The two works are wildly different. But, based on that small, single episode sliver, it seemed like I had copied all of my ideas from Vince Gilligan verbatim. An older, untrustworthy ‘mentor’ figure? Check. Driving a big, unwieldy vehicle? Check. Driving it through New Mexico?!? Check. The New Mexico angle killed me. Back then, at least. Now, when I rewatch the episode, I kick myself just a little for getting too caught up in the ‘purity’ of my ideas.
This wasn’t the first time self doubt crept in as I wrote. Blope has been in the works for a long time and it’s undergone a big ol’ list of changes in the process. One of those changes was the direct result of Fallout 3. Initially, I had planned on writing about the most exciting combination of wars possible – a civil war, a race war and a nuclear war all rolled into one. Bad ass, right? I thought so. Then I played through Fallout 3. There was no way I could do the whole ‘irradiated populace’ thing after dealing with the ghouls in Tenpenny Tower. In my mind, it had been done. Worse yet, it had been done really, really well. I changed course and I’m glad I did. Nuclear war tales haven’t run their course, but I think that without a ‘fun’ twist, they run the risk of feeling… old. Like 1950s old. We need to focus on the panic of the day, goddamnit! Watch for my water fluoridation zombie story coming soon! (Note – totally a lie. Zombies are effing lame and water fluoridation gives us strong teeth.)
Ever had a nerd bend your ear about The Hunger Games ripping off Battle Royale? It sucks. You nod, you feign disgust that someone would tone down the Japanese original for North American audiences, you bitch about it behind their backs in a blog post years later. It’s the circle of life. The wheel unbroken. Sorry, I had to add that part – I was equal parts impressed and mortified with myself that I remembered those lyrics.
Thing is, that all sort of relates to the very worst form of creative self doubt – the kind that leads to avoiding certain works in order to build up a wall of plausible deniability. I haven’t read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, even though I’m sure I would like it. Post apocalyptic horribleness is generally right up my alley, but I feared that The Road might be too thematically similar to Blope. So, what did I do? I purposefully avoided it, just in case someone ever says something like “Gee, Blope seems a lot like The Road.” Then, I can reply “Oh, really? I wouldn’t know, I haven’t read it.” That’s horrible, don’t you think? It’s like writing and recording a heavy metal album without working knowledge of Ride The Lightning.
I’ve made a concerted effort to stop building up that wall of deniability. It’s stupid and it keeps me from experiencing things I would like. I’ve accepted that there’s nothing new under the sun. The trick is spinning what has been done in a direction inventive enough to make it seem original. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.
Oh, and I still refuse to watch Shutter Island. It sounds far too similar to a screenplay treatment I wrote and you can’t knock down a wall in a day.
Thanks Sean! Curious about the book or the man behind it? Read on!
Son of Satan and Grandson of the Messiah, Billy Lopez was born with a sordid lineage, an ancestry that has been veiled since birth. Now, he’s a wanted man, forced into a harrowing world of extreme plastic surgery, black market pornography and organized religion gone horribly awry. BLOPE is the classic ‘Coming of Age’ story turned on its ear and shoved to the ground.
About the Author:
Sean Benham is a Toronto-based entertainment industry professional who has worked as an art director, graphic animator, writer and producer on everything from Emmy award-winning children’s television programming to heavy metal music videos.