I just finished a book I spent eight years working on. It's about a kid in high school. I'm sure with that level of information, you can think of at least 50 other books about kids in high school. Some stories may take place at a party, others at prom, graduation, or all three. The protagonist may be struggling with planning for the future, navigating the minefield of a social life, or dealing with some supernatural shit, or all of the above at once. So I'm clearly not the first person to write a story about high school.
When I'd describe the plot of my book about a maladaptive daydreamer, I was often met with comments like “Oh, like Inception?” I used to get all worked up and rapid-fire list ways how my book was nothing like Inception (if anything, it gave off more Walter Mitty vibes), and it left me feeling like I was wasting my time.
I let that hold me back for like eight years.
In fiction, you can narrow down the plot to pretty much any novel into seven basic categories. This concept is so well known it even has its own book and Wikipedia page. Basically every story can be summarized into these categories:
1. Overcoming the Monster
2. Rags to Riches (or Riches to Rags)
3. The Quest
4. Voyage and Return
To add an extra layer of unoriginal-ness—just about every conflict possible can be sorted into the six main conflict types:
1. Man vs. Nature
2. Man vs. Self
3. Man vs. Man
4. Man vs. Society
5. Man vs. Technology
6. Man vs. Supernatural
I won't break them all down here because there are much better articles that do this already—my point is, a lot of this has been done before. That can be discouraging. It can make you question why even bother writing at all if you can't put anything 100% new out there.
I'm not advocating that we all be formulaic, plagiarize, or give in to mediocrity. I'm saying we shouldn't let the notion it's been done before deter us from telling our stories. You can tell them the way only you can. We've got a great thing going for us—we've got as many stories as we do folks to tell them.
I'd say instead of pressuring ourselves into being wholly abstract (which is probably egotistical at best), we can focus on sharing stories that bring us to relate to one another. Being inspired by one another doesn't make our stories unoriginal. It doesn't make you a hack.
There's fellowship in shared experience. I'm glad I'm not the only one who had an awkward first date, experienced a breakup (or five), wrecked my car, pissed off my parents, or felt nervous about post-grad life.