Short and Sweet Advice for Writers – Mix and Match for New Story Ideas

mix it upNothing 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.
    • Mary Robinette Kowal successfully combines Regency romance and fantasy genres in her Glamourist Histories series.
    • Seth Grahame-Smith mixes historical fiction with horror in titles like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
  • Shift the story’s perspective.
    • The 2014 movie Maleficent is “Sleeping Beauty” told from the viewpoint of the usually maligned villainess, Maleficent.
    • The Lovely Bones told the story of a murder from the viewpoint of the deceased victim.
    • I recently read about a novel which is told, in part, from the POV of a stolen painting.

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? 

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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 Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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35 thoughts on “Short and Sweet Advice for Writers – Mix and Match for New Story Ideas

  1. Pingback: Short and Sweet Advice for Writers – Mix and Match for New Story Ideas – Stories of Sandeept

  2. Great examples and ideas. This is an old example, but I’ll never forget reading The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. She retold the Arthurian myth from the women’s point of view-Morgaine and Guinevere, primarily. I love that kind of stuff!

    • LOVE that! You’re too funny. 🙂

      (And now I will also be hearing that in my head all day. Ummm … thanks?)

    • Sounds like you’re listing the ingredients for some kind of story spell or maybe a “goulash.” Love it. When I was a kid, I loved this show on public radio on which the host would make up stories about different collections of random characters or objects sent in by readers. I once asked for a story with a horse, a cat, and a red-winged blackbird. I wish I could remember the story.

      • Sometimes it’s those random elements that make the story. A couple of years ago I design class for woodworkers. One of the exercises was to design something using the elements of a toaster and a giraffe. I came up with the, “Giroaster,” a kitchen appliance – toaster with a recipe holder and a light. The only problem I had with the concept is the tendency for the toaster to set the recipes on fire.

  3. Hmmm, one of my writing dreams is to do a modern re-telling of Homer’s “Odyssey.” I’m in the note-taking stage! I might end up with just the Circe adventure–my favorite.

    I just recently opened Robert Graves’s novel, “Homer’s Daughter” which posits the daughter as the true author of The Odyssey. BUT, I absolutely couldn’t get into it and had to lay it aside.

    Great post with great ideas. Thanks!

    • There is so much life in those ancient tales, isn’t there? The number of ways to interpret and reimagine them is almost limitless. Makes me feel like I should do a little Homer 101, maybe … 😉 It’s been a (long) while!

  4. I actually came up with the idea for my most recent book after I thought of a combination of two story elements. My book actually has nothing to do with either,but it started my thought process until I totally derailed.
    My idea was a re-telling of Breakfast Club if the school was suddenly invaded by zombies.

    • Yep – It’s amazing how much one small tweak can affect everything about the story – send it spinning off in an entirely new direction. Story chemistry! 😉

  5. Absolutely love this! It’s so basic, but so good to be reminded sometimes, that you don’t need to break your back trying to completely reinvent the wheel – just tweak a little 🙂

    • Exactly. Reinventing the wheel is hard … and, let’s be realistic, it’s really hard to improve on The Wheel. 😉
      But – you can tweak it just a bit and wind up with a wheel that’s all your own and very cool. Yay!

  6. I read another article a few weeks ago which questioned the originality of many ideas which we hear about, but thanks to your article, now I have the answer to how one presents those same things in a totally new perspective which is interesting for the user! Much appreciated!

  7. This is actually a perfect article for me to read (and pass along to my classmates!) We are taking a class this semester on remixing and we have to each create 5 of our own remixes. Thanks for all your ideas! I’ll definitely be posting this for my peers to read!

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