Recently, I've found myself thinking about the idea that there are no more original ideas, that everything is stolen, or borrowed, or adapted from other ideas. I don't know whether original ideas are dead or not, and I don't suppose we will know until another truly original idea shows up (and then there's the question of whether we recognize it for what it is). But what I was thinking was, that it's fascinating how so many stories can start from the same very basic point, and go in so many different directions.
Someone once said - I've forgotten who, but I think it was in a textbook I had once - that every movie involves either a stranger coming to town, or someone leaving town. It you extrapolate "town" to a broader sense of where you feel comfortable, then that idea really can be applied to widely disparate movies. In Casablanca, Ilsa and Paul enter the occupied town of Casablanca, and stir things up a bit. In High Plains Drifter, the Stranger comes to Lago, and forces the townspeople to deal with the things they've done. In Happy Gilmore, an angry young man enters the stuffed shirt world of the PGA, and ruffles a lot of feathers. In each case, it's someone new entering a place that had been in a fairly static pattern prior to that. But from that initial starting point, you can get a touching story about love, duty, standing up for the right thing, making tough choices. You can also get a dark story about the uglier side of humanity and what they'll do to protect their interests, and how sweet it is to see their comeuppance. Or you can get High Plains Drifter. *rimshot*
Man, I hope people got the joke there.
If you turn to the realm of superhero comics, it would seem like most of the capes are working off the pattern Superman established, with the strange powers and costumes, and using them to fight evil, and defend those who can't defend themselves. But it's who (or what) they fight, the characters they're surrounded by. Daredevil fights muggers, and corruption in the legal system, Superman fights against alien menaces, and weird super-geniuses. What they defend, how, why they do it makes all the difference. The basic blueprint may start the same, but the aesthetic touches make them wind up in very different, but equally interesting purposes.
A person being murdered is a pretty common starting point for a story., but whereas Stephen King might use that death to examine how it changes a person through their lives, and how children cope with fear, Michael Connelly would probably look at it as an opportunity to discuss failings in law enforcement, the tendency for things to be covered up or fall through the cracks. I just find that fascinating, how a similar starting point can lead to such diverse outcomes, depending on where the creator's interest lies, and what they're trying to accomplish with the work. In a certain sense, the stories are just derivations of the same old thing, but in other ways, they are unique, special works (yes, even Happy Gilmore, to a certain extent, anyway).