I've been reading about manuscripts that were dismissed because the story's "been done" or the agents/publishers were clamoring for what's "new" or "fresh". I understand they're getting tired of reading queries on stories that feature vampires, angels, and other paranormal entities, but that doesn't mean those stories are automatically boring or unreadable just because they've "been done before". Writers can offer a unique voice, a new setting, or other elements to give their story the newness that it needs. Even if a writer does come up with an unusual plot, it's likely the elements have been done somewhere, sometime before.
"There's nothing new under the sun. All roads lead to Rome."~John Lennon
Most new stories are the same archetypes of literature told with a fresh voice and a new set of circumstances. Some take a well-told story and give it a twist or two. The most obvious example of this is the re-imagining of fairy tales. Little girl with a red-hooded coat goes to visit her grandma, only to be stalked by the big, bad wolf. Yeah, you could say it's been done, and you'd be right a thousand times over...but that doesn't stop writers from writing about it, publishers from publishing it, and millions of readers from enjoying a new spin on an old tail...um, tale...sorry! ;o)
Nothing is new...and new doesn't equal interesting. If I pitched you a story about a guy that wakes up to find himself turned into a ham sandwich and he spends the entire book trying to avoid being eaten by his family and the friendly neighborhood mailman, that would be new...but would you be interested? (if you said yes, I worry about you.)
And now it's not just that stories have been done...they've been "overdone". o_O
The thing about vampires and other paranormal subjects considered overdone is that, yes, maybe they are plentiful...but that's because there's something people like about them. Readers have connected with the story and will probably connect with similar stories. Archetypes appear all throughout literature and are a very important part of it. They lay the foundation upon which some of the greatest stories have been told.
Archetype: "A universally recognizable element...that recurs across all literature and life." ~Latrobe, Brodie, and White, The Children's Literature Dictionary
(from the Greek: arche, original, and typos, form or model)
This post, along with my posts on prologues, conflict, and any future posts where I rant about writing all come back to one simple point about writing: despite the "rules" and guidelines, writing is an art...and art is subjective. No one has been able to capture in words the special ingredient that makes a story liked by everyone...because it doesn't exist. If it did, Oprah would own it and we'd all know the secret to her book club success. =)
Art is influenced by the works that came before, and it will live on to influence others works of art forever.