Friday, July 29, 2011

Following the Leader

Part of what helped make most of us into the passionate writers we are today are all the stories that have come before ours. All the romances, adventures, mysteries, and so on. And for me, not only have they spurned a passion for writing, but they've also inspired specific stories.

Yes, I have gotten ideas for my own novels from books or even movies that I've read and seen before. We're all aware that certain storylines are done and redone and done again. Cinderella, for example, and all the others that were based off the story. A woman living with step-sisters, working as the maid of the house, transforms for a time to meet the prince and fall in love. Or even a storyline not so specific. Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl cannot be together, but alas, they find a way and there's a happily ever after.

There are times when I'll see a movie or read a book and think, "Hey, that was my idea!" Of course, someone else just got to it first. If you're in the same boat as me, there are ways to take a familiar idea and transform it into something different, because no matter how original we are, there are always going to be stories that sound like ours in some way or another and it's up to us to stand out.

There are three key elements that make up a story, giving you three categories in which to change certain details to make the story more your own and more unique.


Occupations - Giving your character a unique job that helps define their personality and who they are is a great way to get a new twist on a familiar story.

Characteristics/Personalities - Examine characteristics and personalities in a familiar story or the story you've already established. What characteristics or personality traits can you give your character to make them stand out?

Backstory and Current Surroundings - This is your opportunity to develop a unique past that shapes who your character is, and their current situation could have them living in an unusual place next to an unusual neighbor that adds more character to the story.

Secondary Characters - Intriguing characters make readers want to continue reading. Make a twist on familiar characters to freshen them up and add more substance.


This is where the "what if" question comes into play. If you have a similar storyline, stop it at each plot point and ask "what if". If you're going with the same scenario mentioned above and this is the moment when boy meets girl, ask questions that differ from that storyline. If boy and girl are supposed to fall in love, ask "what if" they severely dislike each other at first. Ask "what if" the thing keeping them apart is something the reader hasn't seen before.


Give your story new life by dropping it in a unique place. Changing or creating a setting is a fun way to give your story a new twist. Let your characters interact with that setting. Let that setting act as another character for the story and give it its own unique characteristics that will charm readers.

Give a familiar storyline a chance for a unique appearance by offering up these twists. Or even take a storyline you have that doesn't feel full enough and write out each plot point, each character, and the setting, and examine them. Find a twist to help make each category unique and then apply it to your story.

Have you ever had a story idea you've found is familiar or resembles another story you've heard or read? Do you continue with that story, and if so, what do you do to make it unique?


Beth K. Vogt said...

I've heard it said there are only (fill in the number) basic plots and every story is a derivation of these fundamental plot lines.
I embraced the familiar in my novel ( a confused, reluctant bride), had a little fun with it (llamas, anyone?) and then combined the two with a dash of humor to write a fun pitch and, eventually, a book proposal. You've got to work with what you have.

I missed The Alley while I was on vacation! You all produce stellar posts!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

You know, there's some comfort in knowing there are only so many plots. I tend to freak out thinking I need something totally new, so it's easier for me to think I just need to tweak something already tried and true!

Anonymous said...

This is so true! Especially in the genre I write (fantasy) there are only so many basic plots. What keeps things interesting is how the author goes about putting together their world, quest, war, etc...

Takes some of the pressure off of me knowing I don't have to come up with an entirely different premise/plot for my fantasy novel. :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hey Beth! Yes, I've heard that before, too, about there being a certain number of plots. I love that about the llamas! I hope you had a super vacation :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Sherrinda, that's a great point. That is comforting and makes the whole process a lot less overwhelming, which plotting can definitely be.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Michelle, that's great that you write fantasy! I would think that's a fun genre, though definitely challenging to remain unique and fresh. Hope you have a great weekend!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Slipping into the reader mode, instead of writer, I am especially delighted when I don't see the familiar story. I feel like I'm forging a new path as I read the well written story, instead of walking on new woodchips.
This then would be a challenge to myself, how well can I tweak my story to make it appear to be a brand new idea.
If you can't tell, I live in a dream world :)
Great post Cindy :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Ah, Mary, don't you love those dream worlds? Yes, new ideas can be challenging, but also fun. Pushing ourselves as writers is a big task, but so rewarding ;)