That’s not actually a quote by anyone in particular, but I’ve seen enough comments and thoughts along those lines by now that it might as well be.
And to this I say bullshit.
Because when someone finds something they enjoy, they want more of it. For me, when I was in my preteen/teen years it was the Arthurian legend. I bought every single Arthurian novel I could find. I even bought a four- or five-inch thick Arthurian Encyclopedia and a massive hard cover version of Le Morte d’Arthur that both sat on my shelf and looked pretty.
I was a twelve-year old kid who earned money by babysitting and taking care of the neighbor’s yard. But every penny I earned went towards books and a lot of those were on that particular theme.
And chances are that reading Mists of Avalon led me to all of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s other works. (It may have been the book that started me on my Arthurian obsession in the first place, but that was quite some time ago, so it’s a little fuzzy.)
Anyway. Getting back to the point. I don’t think a writer should ever hesitate to tell a story just because it’s been done before. If you have a strong desire to tell THAT story, then do it. (I shouldn’t have to tell you to do it well, right?)
Of course, you may have noticed by now that I’m of the “write it first, worry about selling it later” school of thought. (Quite frankly, I’m of the “live your life your way, worry about if it all comes out right in the end later” school of thought. Most people are wrong most of the time. And if you spend your life listening to them, not only will you end up changing direction eight million times, you’ll be miserable, unhappy, and confused.)
But I digress. Getting back to the point.
Yes, something can be overdone. More I think because people jump on a bandwagon thinking they’ve found the secret to easy money. And they flood the market and do it poorly. (When I heard a company that had no business doing so talking about starting a hedge fund in 2007, I knew things were about to turn ugly.) So, don’t jump on bandwagons.
If everyone and their mother is rushing to write vampire novels (the obvious example), maybe save that idea for ten years from now. Are vampire novels dead and overdone? Maybe in the immediate moment, but I doubt even that. I’ve never been a vampire novel fan, but there have always been a few series going for as long as I can remember. People who like them, like them. Maybe they don’t like sparkle vampires, but if a new generation does, they’re going to want more.
Write what you need to write. I would say that if you’re going to write in a particular area, like the Arthurian legend, that has a deep history, that you either do so without any grounding whatsoever or you do so after you’ve thoroughly familiarized yourself with the major works in that area. If you’ve only read two or three books, I think the danger is that it’ll show too much in your work.
So, either throw everything out the window and write based upon a few basic pieces of information (a king, knights and a round table, his wife who falls in love with his champion, a sword in a stone) or see how everyone else did it and find your own story knowing what’s already been done.
I’m sure some folks will strongly disagree with half of that advice. And what do I know? I’m an unpublished nobody spouting crap on the internet. But I’m also someone who is still far more a reader than a writer and I think that the type of reader I was/maybe still am is a reader who doesn’t care about the “history of the genre.”
Readers just want a good story. That’s what’s most important. Tell it well enough and no one will care that it’s a story that’s been heard a hundred times before.