“Nothing New Under the Sun”: The Art of Creating Something New out of the Familiar
Updated: Dec 22, 2022
I make no effort to hide the fact that The Sword and the Spark came out of an idea I had over a decade ago to blend Shakespeare’s Macbeth with Star Wars. After all, Star Wars has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My love of Shakespeare came after being forced by my cousins to watch Romeo and Juliet sometime before I had hit puberty (because it was soooooo romantic, and they liked that sort of thing). Young me had little interest in the romance, but I developed an infatuation with the dramatic sword fights and characters who were not the star-crossed lovers—specifically, Mercutio and Tybalt. To this day, I am obsessed with Mercutio and Tybalt. Forget the eponymous characters and their silly, doomed, teenaged love affair; give me the best friend who provides witty banter and the aggressive, hot-headed swordsman who both die in the third act.
Oh, yeah—I also fell in love with Shakespeare’s penchant for mercilessly dispatching truly fantastic characters. If you’ve read my book, that probably doesn’t come as a surprise.
I began the writing process by poking as many holes into both Shakespeare’s play and the Star Wars prequels as I could in a desire to blend the two in a way that would allow the reader to go on a journey of twists and turns rather than simply retreading the old tales. I sought new answers to questions posed in both stories, new solutions to the problems faced by the characters, and new explanations for the things that just didn’t fly for me in either inspirational source.
“Tell thee Macduff was from his mother’s womb Untimely ripped?” Yeah, no. No eleventh-hour revelations in my story to serve as a deus ex machina to end the conflict. Instead, I was motivated by a multitude of other sources to fill in the huge gaps and holes that now existed in the tapestry of my combined woven narratives. I went back to the Greeks and crafted an actual deus ex machina, which I blended with a little Arthurian Legend. I mean, who doesn’t like a dash of Excalibur mixed with the dramatic irony of the Oedipus cycle? Or what about Paradise Lost, which is itself a biblical retelling in which a sympathetic figure who is the best and brightest becomes the epitome of evil—and experiences a crisis of conscience? And since I had already begun by weaving the modern Star Wars into my story, why not bring in narrative and character threads from other modern works such as Firefly, A Song of Ice and Fire, and even Dogma? Yes, Kevin Smith’s Dogma—and is this a good time to mention the amount of profanity some of my characters use?
In Ecclesiastes 1.9, there’s a passage that says, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” This is true even of my two main inspirational sources. The original Star Wars movie alone was an amalgam of numerous influences that George Lucas had enjoyed: Flash Gordon, Lord of the Rings, Dune, King Arthur, and The Hidden Fortress, to name a few. Shakespeare’s Macbeth was not an original story, either. Neither was Romeo and Juliet, for that matter. In fact, even Shakespeare himself reused the trope of the star-crossed lovers again and again and again, sometimes to brilliant comic effect.
Regarding tropes, there will be a future blog about why they exist and their purpose in storytelling, but I digress.
It is not unoriginal to draw inspiration from or even retell old stories. Again, I go back to Romeo and Juliet and the countless versions of the tragedy that have appeared in films, books, movies, comics, and television shows over the years. Even works like Pride and Prejudice and Frankenstein have had their fair share of re-imaginings. The key, however, is in the execution. The story needs to feel fresh and new, just like the original Star Wars in 1977. Even though it was bursting at the seams with familiar archetypes and plot lines, nobody had seen anything like it before, and it had a dramatic impact on the future of cinema.
And on me.
In the end, what matters most is the unique way in which a writer weaves together the inspirational threads to tell a story. That’s it. In the end, we are storytellers. That's our job.
In terms of my own first storytelling effort, I hope my readers find joy in both the familiar and the new. I hope the plot keeps everyone guessing, even though some arcs are as inevitable as the fate of those two kids from Verona. And I hope those who pick up The Sword and The Spark delight in the journey.
Stars light your way.