There aren’t any unique tales: you aren’t unique and why is good factor
Have you ever heard that there are no original stories? Did that upset your stomach or make you angry? After all, you're a writer! Isn't it your goal to come up with original stories?
While the idea that there are no original stories sounds particularly annoying to writers, the truth is that every story (most likely) follows the "same but different" rule.
If stories were completely original, it would be hard to know if a readership would be interested in them. We want stories that are unique but also follow the same conventions and tropes of certain types of stories that we have read or seen before.
When you do this, your story will affect your ideal readers. And here is why.
Once upon a time, I believed in original stories
I used to think every story was original.
Every story ever told, I thought, must be completely different. Nothing can be repeated, nothing can be identical to anything else. And if I've written something that resembles something someone else wrote in history, then I have to be an unoriginal hack that as a writer will never make it.
But as it turns out, this couldn't be further from the truth.
Because the truth is that stories –Well Stories – work according to formulas.
That's not to say that every story follows a formula, but those that become popular or stand the test of time usually tend to. Additionally, the majority of readers don't want a completely new story. What they actually want is their story, which they know will be told in a whole new way.
Readers don't want a completely new story. They want the same story to be told in a whole new way.
I didn't fully embrace this lesson until I wrote my upcoming novel. Headspace.
At the core, Headspace is a story about an ordinary person who competes, or rather is forced to, in an extraordinary environment.
Does that sound familiar to you? Maybe because it's the same formula followed by The hunger Games, Ready player one, Cult classic Battle Royaleand a number of YA and science fiction novels.
I had big problems with it when I got the book down on paper and wondered if I was a cheater and copycat for just making up this story. However, it's a story that I believed in and that needed to be written, so I moved on.
As I was writing, I realized something important: the more I wrote, the more organic the story became.
It grew in its own way and was very different from books that follow the same formula.
Although the concept is the same, each of these books is different and loved in its own right. As it turns out, my story is different too.
My characters do not follow the path of others in similar situations, and my book does not follow a cobbled path but finds its own. My story may not be original, but it is unique.
More importantly – at least I like to believe – that it is so Well.
BTW, I am assembling a launch team for Headspace and I would love it if you are with me. To get a free copy and help me spread it, email firstname.lastname@example.org. I may be a bit biased but I think you will enjoy reading it!
But what exactly does it mean to be unique if not original? Let's take a look.
The "unoriginal" original
There are a number of studies of plot types, and many people differ in how exactly to categorize the plot. One thing remains the same, though: seasoned writers recognize that most stories fall into a small handful of types.
Instead of going into detailed examples in this article (you can find more of them here), I'd like to point out some easy-to-recognize examples so you can see that nothing is truly original.
A hero is sent on a journey to complete a quest
A hero has traveled a long way to complete a quest or to receive a prize, far away. They meet and join unlikely companions who help them on their way or who turn out to be enemies.
What story is that
Maybe it is Lord of the rings. That's the obvious answer.
But maybe it is Indiana Jones?
Or how about it Water ship down?
If we want to go back even further, maybe it is The Odyssey?
Is it possible that every hero has been on a quest since then Odyssey was just a retelling of the same formula?
Now I see you scratch your head a little and rethink the whole concept of the "original". Let me give you the same idea, but rephrased a little.
An ordinary hero is sent on an adventure
An ordinary, slightly annoyed guy is drawn on an unwilling adventure by eccentric acquaintances.
Ok that definitely is The Hobbit, correct?
Wait, maybe the old favorite The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?
Or the TV show Sherlock.
It could even be Green eggs and ham!
Stop thinking of unoriginal stories as a bad thing. Stories that stand the test of time are not original, but unique takes on a beloved formula.
Different stories, the same formula as a good strategy
Are these stories too similar to be interesting? Or did you find each one unique and pleasant for you?
Has it even occurred to you that they have the same core formula?
Here is an even more obvious example.
Two people meet. Two people fall in love. Two people get into trouble they conquer. Two people live happily ever after.
How does that sound
Maybe every novel ever written plus every story with a romantic subplot?
I don't see the romance industry shrinking anytime soon. In fact, more love stories are being written every year and people still love them.
For more information on stories that share a common formula, see this article on Short Story Ideas.
Old idea, new twist: 3 ways to Make your story the same but different
You can now ask, "How do I differ when each story has been told a hundred times?" Is it even worth writing your story when everyone else has already told it?
Yes! Everyone else has told this story, however they Not.
How you tell this story will be different from any other. The world also needs the version that you want to tell.
Here are three easy ways to turn an old formula into a new story.
1. New perspective
A story told from a different perspective becomes a whole new story. This means a new POV, we want to hear from your narrators in new ways!
Each pair of eyes in a story sees its events differently.
For example, a superhero story told from the buddy point of view is completely different from the hero's point of view.
A love story from the eyes of the rival love interest is a whole new story.
T.Take a traditional story and tell it from someone you wouldn't expect to hear and suddenly you have a story that has never been told before.
2. Unexpected turn
Typically, when readers read a book using a proven formula, they expect a certain sequence of events:
- Cinderella marries the prince
- The quest for the holy grail ends with obtaining the treasure
- The case is solved and the killer is found
However, if you change just one of the expected elements, the story will be turned upside down.
Maybe Cinderella never wanted the prince to start. Perhaps instead she conspires with her sisters to take citizenship of the palace.
Maybe the killer everyone thought was guilty was actually innocent, and it was the detective who arranged it.
Have you ever thought that a treasure at the end of the journey is not a treasure at all, but a curse that must be given to someone and the ignorant hero, has now become a victim?
3. Combine formulas
When you're struggling to find the uniqueness within a formula, sometimes it's best to take a few and combine them! Nobody said you had to stick with you.
The best way to do this is to choose one formula and add elements from others, otherwise your story may feel unfocused.
A comedy with some touching tragic scenes or an adventure story that also leads to the protagonist discovering something unexpected about himself can easily lead to a more complex and unique story.
Whatever you combine it will be a unique way of telling the same story. It will be your own original, unoriginal way of telling it.
The world is full of unoriginal stories (Yipee!)
Do not confuse "original""in a good way. And what's more, don't confuse" unoriginal "with bad.
You don't have to be original to be unique.
There's someone out there waiting to hear your version of an ancient story that only you can tell. It's important to realize that formulas work for a reason. Once you learn them, you can use them in a way that is entirely yours.
And if you get stuck and fear your story is too similar, reach out to your writing community for honest feedback.
Beta readers and editors can help you tell the difference between copycat and the same flavor with a twist. The rest is in the details.
Would you like to read a brand new original story? My novel Headspace will be released in July 2021, but you can read it for free right now if you join my launch team! Send an email to email@example.com to let me know of your participation. I can't wait to hear your thoughts!
What are some story ideas that you thought were original stories? Can you imagine others like her? Let us know in the comments.
Now that you know there are no original stories, work on creating a unique story idea that will be similar to another story you love.
First, think of one of your favorite stories. What is the requirement? Write it in a sentence or two. If you get stuck, try a classic fairy tale: Cinderella.
Next, take that premise and give it a twist of its own. Choose any of the three ways to make your story unique and apply it to this story idea.
Now write it! Try for fifteen minutes to write your own story idea using one of these three suggestions. Start by writing a new premise of your own with a sentence or two. When you're done, write a scene from your new story.
When you're done, share your original unoriginal story in the comments below and leave feedback for three other writers!
J. D. Edwin