Fiction Friday! Why your book sounds exactly like a book you read two years ago.

Good morning everyone, today is a very gloomy and dreary UK day indeed. But that won’t stop us from going forward strong and proud into our mission of dissecting creative writing and learning to be better writers! Let us continue!

So, perhaps it is just me, but more often than not I write a story or get a really great idea for a book, and then after my excitement has faded, the thought crosses my mind, “shit, that’s just like that book I read one time,” or “hmmmm… why do I feel like that was a Natalie Portman movie at some point?” It always feels to me like the moment I come up with a good story, I realize that it’s already been written. Or worse, when I am just done writing a story (whether it be short or novel-length), I realize that it’s eerily familiar. It’s enough to drive a girl crazy, or be insanely discouraging when you’re writing. You may feel un-creative, or like me, worry that copyright hounds will arrest you and throw you in jail for rewriting the Notebook (yes, I really did write an entire novel without realizing that it was exactly like the Nicholas Sparks sob-story).

But don’t let this get you down. This is actually a really good thing. Many successful writers aren’t successful because they are coming up with a completely original story; they just know how to retell it in an interesting and creative way.

How do I know this? Dracula in Love by Karen Essex has sold thousands, if not millions of copies even though it is retelling the story of Dracula by Bram Stoker, just from the feminine perspective. Simply by switching characters, it’s a different story. The Hunger Games is based on the Greek myth of Theseus, who killed the Minotaur (previously the people of the town had to give up their best 14 young men and women as a sacrifice every seven years… sound familiar????). Avatar was Dances with Wolves/Pocahontas redone in a mystical setting. You could even compare Harry Potter (yes, I am going to make a poke at it’s originality, don’t massacre me) and Star Wars. Please see the helpful graphic below.

This is going to be a good day. Anyways, it just goes to show that all the good stories have already been written. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t be original. I mean, how about 10 Things I Hate About You? Besides literature/Shakespeare enthusiasts and people who retain random facts, who knew that it was based on the play The Taming of the Shrew? I didn’t even hear one “thou” or “thy” in the whole plot. And who knew that the Wizard in Oz was in part inspired by the fantasy land of Alice in Wonderland? Crazy.

Why this Works:
Did you ever read about Greek plays and tragedies? Traditionally, the Greek theater was a highly ceremonious and popular event. Surprisingly however, the stories never changed, year after year. The only thing that changed was how the story was told, and who told it. Sometimes hearing a story from a different voice or perspective is enough to give us a completely different experience of the same exact story. And surprisingly, these are traditions that still carry on today: movies and books are divided into genres, that mostly (though I won’t go as far to say all the time) define the plot of the story. Romance/chick flicks: girl meets boy, some sort of tragedy/problem, they resolve it together, happily ever after. There. I just defined most of the genre. Action/Adventure: we meet the underdog/regular Joe, there is a pressing/urgent problem. The hero (alone or with a team of friends/specialists) solves the problem. He is the hero and everyone loves him. The end. See? We have these reoccurring general story lines that we enjoy seeing again and again, in different ways.So while all the good stories have already been written, the possibilities for rewriting them into different settings/situations are endless. It’s all just a matter at looking at them from a new light.

So how does this help YOUR writing?
1. Don’t let this discourage you! Just because your story borrows bits and pieces from other stories, that doesn’t mean it’s bad. A story doesn’t have to be COMPLETELY original. In fact, most authors aren’t. They find a device that’s popular, and just add their own twist. (Love Triangle, one of the oldest tricks in the book, is the entire story arch of Twilight. But because it’s about vampires and werewolves, it’s interesting).
2. Use it to your advantage: feel like you can write a story better? Than do it. I once took the plot of a Tom Cruise movie as the entire basis for a novel. And guess what? It won fifth place in an international contest.
3. Think of your writing and try to boil it down to the most simple story arch. Think of successful books and movies within that genre that made their writing stand out, apart from the convention. What is it about your writing that you want people to remember? Memorable characters? Thrilling plot? Lots of cliffhangers? Try to define the style you want from your writing. Make a list and keep it with your computer (or notebook if you write old style like I do!) Remind yourself of what you want from your writing every time you write.

Writing Challenge: Think of a popular movie/book you’ve recently seen/read. Try to rewrite the story, with completely different setting, characters, and time period. Post a summary below and I’ll try to guess what book or movie it is you are recreating!

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About Angela

Editor, bookbinder, and writer.

3 comments

  1. Interesting ideas, puts the pressure of having to find a completely original story which is near enough impossible in these times

    Like

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