This month’s blog post comes from CWC Chairman, Peter Whittle, who is musing on the paradox of originality versus familiarity in our work.
“I recently received the following comment from the director of an amateur musical theatre company: “In general we would only look at a new work if it was based on a known work of literature/movie/story, that would have some appeal straight off.” We were discussing the challenge of selling enough tickets to cover the costs of putting on a show. This, of course, is a very reasonable consideration but reveals an inherent paradox.
As writers, we all strive to create something new but it is only likely to succeed if it is sufficiently familiar to attract a buyer or an audience. The requirement for a show to be based on a known work is frustrating and would seem to have a dampening effect on creativity. Yet maybe I need to wise up to the real world of marketing. You have to create an appeal. If you’re not going to use a well known story such as Romeo and Juliet as the basis of your own composition, West Side Story, then you have to find another way.
I’m reminded of the music industry in the days when most homes had a piano and publishing companies relied on the sales of sheet music. They spent considerable sums on pluggers and paid vaudeville and music hall artists to sing a new song in their acts. Sometimes they would perform it up to four times in one evening. Once a new piece had a ring of familiarity, having been heard sufficient times, the sheet music began to sell.
I guess this is similar to writing a piece within a certain genre. It may be a novel set of characters and a new story but the genre sets up a framework of familiar expectations for the reader or audience member. We all know the killer will be revealed at the end of a whodunnit. If the title or the advertising blurb can refer to a genre, then it’s half way to being familiar.
Looking at some of my titles, such as Float yer Boat, What a Way to Go and Edna’s Emporium, I am now even more aware my shows fail the familiarity test. Oh well, back to the drawing board…”