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Know Jack #350 Say, Have you Heard the One About

“All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, they return again…the thing that has been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”


Years ago, a young friend of my son’s preached his first sermon. He did a very good job and was rightly proud of his accomplishment. However, afterward he found one of the ladies in attendance cool in her praise.

“Didn’t you like the sermon?” he asked.

“You did a fine job,” she replied. “It’s just that I’ve heard it before.”

The young man was somewhat deflated until she explained that there were no “original” sermons—no undiscovered viewpoints, but that did not detract from the truth and that people needed to be reminded more often than instructed.

Storylines spring from both earthquakes and butterflies floating by. The writer may be struck by inspiration like a bolt from the blue or a still small voice asking, “what if”. The story birthed from the experience is unique to him and will unfold with his voice. To think it “original” in substance is a trick we play on ourselves. We may write it better than it has ever been written before, but it has been told before in some form.

I have heard it said that there are just two stories—someone is going somewhere, and someone/something has just arrived. In both cases, something changes in a way that alters the protagonist. What the change is and how he copes/or fails to cope with it are the things that keep writers busy.

Originality has more to do with voice and style than newly discovered ideas. Those are the things that give a story the author’s trademark stamp of originality. That there is a single basic storyline to romance novels doesn’t stop them from being churned out in endless numbers, nor does it diminish interest in them.

There’s no new thing under the sun. There are only writers trying to fill the literary sea with words they have arranged to tell the human story. In the words of an old hymn.

“And when, in scenes of glory—I sing the new, new song—'Twill be the old, old story—That I have loved so long.”


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