Nothing is new. At least, that’s what they say. The stories we tell today are the same stories that have been told all over the world and throughout the ages. Our job as writers is less about finding a new and unique story than it is about finding a new and unique way to tell an old story:
- Boy Meets Girl
- Hero Slays the Monster
- Peasant Becomes Royalty
- Adventurer Completes the Quest
- Sleuth Solves the Mystery
- And so on …
What can you do to make an old story new? How do you transform a predictable tale into something that’s exciting both to the reader and to you, the writer?
Mix it up.
If you’re stuck for a new story idea, try mining the “old,” tried and true stories and then adding a twist. For instance:
- Put an old story or character in a new setting.
- Take classic fairytale characters and put them in the modern day world. (See Once Upon a Time or Enchanted.)
- Tell a classic fairytale (like Cinderella) using a modern cast of characters. (Think of any one of a thousand rags-to-riches/goodness-overcomes-evil stories like Pretty Woman or the Devil Wears Prada.) How many modern Robin Hood tales can you think of? Do you think Trading Places could pass as an adapted retelling of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper?
- Daniel Wallace’s novel, Big Fish, is often described as a retelling of Homer’s Odyssey.
- What kind of story would you wind up with if you put a character like the Mad Hatter on Wall Street, Lois Lane in medieval England, or Jane Austen in the Old West?
- Change one story element.
- Protagonist’s Gender: What if Cinderella was a fella, or Don Quixote was a woman?
- Protagonist’s Age: What if Sherlock Holmes was nine years-old, or Little Red Riding Hood was sixty?
- Setting: What if Harry Potter took place on a space station, or the Apollo mission took place in the depths of the ocean?
- Theme: What if Red Riding Hood was not about the danger of talking to strangers, but about how humans encroach on the natural habitat of animals?
- Create a mash-up of two story elements that aren’t usually combined.
- Shift the story’s perspective.
This list of starter ideas is by no means exhaustive, but it will hopefully inspire you to play around with some mixes of your own. There may only be so many story archetypes, but the variations on those frameworks are endless.
What “story mixes” have you noticed in novels, movies, or TV shows? Which mixes would you like to read/watch?
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition – a long-form post on writing and the writing life – and/or introduce yourself on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.