Twenty-four years ago, on October 14, 1994 the movie Pulp Fiction hit the big screen in a big way. I saw it with a friend in Calgary. We walked out of the theatre and for a few minutes neither of us knew what to say. Eventually, I got profound and said, “Wow!” and he said something like, “That was something.” Close enough. It was twenty-four years ago. The point is, the movie blew us away. It blew everybody away. Love it or hate it, I’ve never met a person who was ambivalent about it; there’s never an in-between.
The film was nominated for seven Oscars including best picture, ultimately losing to Forest Gump. Pulp Fiction did win an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
Deservedly. If there was ever a film that defined original, Pulp Fiction was it. The violence and coarse language was unprecedented. The absolutely unnecessary over-use of the N word made huge controversial waves. Given our current social environment, I wonder if Miramax would have allowed it, had the movie been released today. The dialogue had a rhythm that sounded more realistic than what a person often heard in movies. In that respect, Tarantino took his cues from Elmore Leonard. Good idea. If more writers were smart that way, we (the audience), wouldn’t have to suffer through barf-worthy nonsense like…
“I'm just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.”
“I feel the need, the need for speed!”
(I actually just cringed and winced). Give me two hitmen having a conversation about foot massages any day.
The biggest surprise in the film was the way in which Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary tied all these various elements together using a non-linear timeline, constructing a movie that influenced countless writers and directors. Everybody wanted to capture some of the Pulp Fiction magic. I remember one movie trailer exclaiming, “…out pulps Pulp Fiction!”
Go was good.
Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead, not so much.
I hadn't started the writing journey when Pulp Fiction came out—that was still a couple of years away—but by that point, the idea of writing a novel was in the back of my mind. Pulp Fiction became one of several influences that gave me the push I needed. I wanted to create something as original, “Original” being the well-spring for interesting and entertaining.
Chuck Wendig, a prolific blogger and author, recently blogged about “originality” in an article entitled, Originality Is Overrated in Authorland.
To sum up, Wendig says a writer who is struggling to find a fresh original story idea, needs to get over it because there are no new story ideas. The only original thing any story has is the writer’s personality. Originality comes from the sum total of everything that makes the writer the singularly unique individual he is. It is the mish-mash of traits, experiences, quirks and beliefs she infuses into each book that makes the final result different from any other book on the same subject.
The term used to describe this concept is, “the writer’s voice.” It explains why a fan of fantasy novels will read Brandon Sanderson but not Robert Jordon, for example—similar subject matters told in different ways, one which resonates with a reader, another that does not, for some nebulous reason; when someone asks what you liked (or didn’t like), about a book or movie, how often has the answer been a vague shrug and, “I’m not sure. There was just something about it…”
“No new story ideas,” is not new a new concept. There are very few “laws” or “rules” in Authorland (as Wendig calls it), however one truth that crops up over and over again, is the idea that there are only seven story ideas and every story will fit into one of those seven categories.
You could read Wikipedia for a perfectly acceptable explanation of this truth, or you could read Wendig’s blog and see the truth in action through his typically humorous, colourful, slightly maniacal style.
His writer’s voice explains a familiar subject in a new way. Originality.
A literary agent told me once, “Hollywood aches for original ideas.” I’m not sure if he was being ironic or not, considering how many Part Two and Part Three versions of different movies show up on the silver screen. At any rate, this agent saw enough in my query to scribble a few personalized sentences on my letter and send it back, and let me assure you, this is the extreme exception, not the rule. It’s known as a “positive rejection.” I took it as an encouraging sign. I was on the right track, although his comment justifiably confused me: back when I pitched my novel, there were no versions of it playing in theatres but there were four Die Hard movies, four Jaws movies and eight Halloween movies either playing or available at the local video store.
What then was the originality he was looking for?
Now I know.
It is a familiar story made unfamiliar by the writer’s voice and it will either catch your attention or it won’t. If it resonates with enough people, the writer has a hit on his hands. We’ve seen or read many different versions of a boxer who doesn’t take the dive he’s supposed to. We’ve seen or read about hitmen, some who are redeemed and some who are not. Tarantino didn’t give us a brand-new story. He told us a couple of familiar stories in a brand-new way and Pulp Fiction became a phenomenon. Twenty-four years later it still influences directors and inspiring writers. Including me.
Was Pulp Fiction the most original thing you’ve ever seen? Or was it an offensive, violent mixed up mess?
What's the best thing you'v ever seen or read?
In two weeks, we’ll talk a about the connection between professional sports and fictional stories.
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