Plots have been recycled ever since stories have been told, reusing themes like sacrificial death, the poor becoming rich, the ugly becoming beautiful, and other archetypes. Even great works like those of Shakespeare or Jane Austen can be traced to other influences, ideas, and concepts, but how do you make an old plot new? How do you avoid making it seem like fanfiction or a warmed-over version of something that’s already been done?
- Recognize that it can be done. Nothing defeats creativity faster than a feeling like what you’re doing is pointless. From Hamlet to Sense and Sensibility to Wicked and Ever After, new versions of old stories can be enjoyable, original, and fun.
- Look for something different you can bring to the tale. It could be selecting an alternative narrative method, like turning it into a graphic novel or musical, or it could be changing the point-of-view from someone like Cinderella to her stepsister. It could be adding something like zombies or a high sense of morality to the main character (as Shakespeare did in Hamlet), or added action and adventure and history to an otherwise fanciful tale (as done in Ever After).
- Restructure the story to fit the new material. Whatever you add needs to belong. It can’t just be an afterthought, and the restructuring process will help make it more original. (And, if you find the story restructuring until it hardly resembles the original inspiration, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.)
- Remember that small things can make a big difference. The Prince of Egypt kept the original plot, but it focused on the relationship between Moses and Rameses, making the question of family and faith take center stage. Similarly, Hamlet kept the revenge plot and the deaths intact, but changed how Hamlet responded things, to where he took things far more to heart than the original. As a result, the story was completely different.
When all else fails, have your friends, family, beta readers, or book coaches take a look at it. Chances are, you might be overly sensitive to the similarities when they might not exist for most readers. And even if they do, with help and these four steps, you should be able to brainstorm your way into something new and delightful.
And here, for fun, is the video from Lindybeige on how to change one hat into all sorts of styles as a reminder that originality doesn’t have to involve a big change.
Copyright 2017 Andrea Lundgren
Photo courtesy of Gratisography