Many people worry about creating original stories that have never been told before. That’s pointless. The real secret is not to create an original story, but to create original characters in an original world pursuing a goal that we care about. Whether we’ve seen this plot before is irrelevant if we like the characters in the story.
Think of every romantic comedy from “Sleepless in Seattle” to “The Proposal” or “When Harry Met Sally.” The plot is the same where boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and boy finally gets girl. Same plot but different setting, characters, and details.
Think of “Creed” and “Rocky.” Both are about underdog boxers given a shot to win the heavyweight championship of the world in a fight no one gives them a chance to win. Even though the hero loses, he gains the respect of the world for putting up a good fight. Move this setting to the world of marital arts and you get “The Karate Kid.”
“Star Wars” was about a villain with a deadly weapon threatening to destroy entire planets. “The Return of the Jedi” and “The Force Awakens” is basically about a villain with a deadly weapon threatening to destroy entire planets.
“The Martian” and “Saving Private Ryan” is all about rescuing one person.
“Kill Bill” and “Apocalypse Now” is all about finding someone to kill.
If you’ve written a screenplay or just have a rough idea but have no idea how to complete it, look to other movies, novels, or plays to see which stories are similar to your own story idea. Then you can borrow the same plot elements but put in your own setting and characters to make the familiar plot interesting.
The plot doesn’t have to be original any more than each human skeleton needs to be unique. What counts are the details of the story, the dialogue (think “Pulp Fiction”), the unique character goals (think “Avatar” or “Little Miss Sunshine”), and the villain (think “Star Wars” or “The Revenant”).
Every Christmas tree is still a tree, but how you decorate it determines how it eventually looks. It’s the same with plots. Decorate your plot with interesting characters, goals, and settings (think “Fargo”) and you’ll create an original story far easier than trying to come up with an original plot that doesn’t exist.