Everyone has a great idea for a story. Often that great idea is a vague, abstract concept such as “What if one man had to fight against an army of terrorists while trapped in a skyscraper?” (“Die Hard”) “What if the world had been wiped out by blind creatures that hunt you by sound?” (“A Quiet Place”). Coming up with an idea for a story involves creating an interesting idea that involves conflict and something unusual.
The conflict implies solving a problem and the unusual idea helps distinguish your story from every other story. Story is always about conflict, but people don’t want to see the exact same story again. They want to see something similar but different.”Alien” was pitched as “Jaws in space.” That’s similar enough to be understandable but different enough to be intriguing and unique. You want your story idea to be similar to a successful story, but different enough to stand out on its own.
If you’re stuck for a good story idea, just think of your favorite movie and find a way to change the story slightly. “Jaws” was about a seemingly unstoppable shark. “Alien” took that same idea and changed its location to space. “Predator” took that same idea and moved the alien to Earth.
To come up with a unique story, start with something familiar and find a way to twist one or more of the following elements:
- The location
- The villain
- The gender of the main character
- The time period
- The hero
- The story genre
“Lord of the Flies” was about teenagers trying to survive against each other on a deserted island. “The Hunger Games” was about teenagers trying to survive against each other in a reality TV show arena.
“Full Metal Jacket” was about soldiers fighting Viet Cong guerrillas during the Vietnam War. “The Hurt Locker” was about soldiers fighting Taliban insurgents during the Iraqi War.
“American Pie” was about male teenagers who want to lose their virginity. “Blockers” was about female teenagers who want to lose their virginity.
“Titanic” was about a woman trying to survive the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. “The Poseidon Adventure” was about passengers trying to survive the capsizing of an ocean liner in the present time.
“Shane” was a Western about a gunslinger trying to live a normal life but forced to kill. “Pale Rider” was a Western about a gunslinger who comes back to exact revenge on the men who shot him. In both stories, the hero is a gunslinger but their motivations and background are different, making them different heroes.
“High Noon” was a Western about a sheriff facing an army of gunslingers alone in the Old West. “Outland” took that same concept but moved the location to a mining colony on Jupiter’s moon and became a science fiction story.
Ultimately, there are no completely original stories. “Cinderella” is about a woman who finds true love with a prince. “Crazy Rich Asians” is about a woman who finds true love with a man who’s family is extremely wealthy. If you try to write a story that’s never been told before, you’ll waste time trying to create something new, only to find out that every story has been told in one form or another already.
Don’t try to create a completely original story that’s never been told before. Try to create a completely original story that tells a story in a way that’s never been told before. Don’t create copycat stories. When “Star Wars” became a success, studios flooded the theaters with bad science fiction movies. When “Silence of the Lambs” became a success, studios flooded the theaters with bad serial killer hunting movies. When “Pulp Fiction” became a success, studios flooded the theaters with bad movies that celebrated criminals.
You’ll never achieve originality by telling the same story. However, you can achieve originality by telling the same story differently. By using an existing story as a foundation, you can tell your own story in a way that’s unique to your characters, their motivation, and their setting, and that’s the hallmark of a great story whether it copies another story or not.