Borrowing Story Ideas

One of the biggest mistakes people make is trying to create an original story. With people creating stories for centuries, chances are good that there are no original stories, but there are original wys of telling the same story. Rather tahn waste your time trying to create something entirely different, just focus on making your story unique based on its characters and events.

Watch a movie like “High Plains Drifter” and “Pale Rider,” both Clint Eastwood westerns, and you’ll see a similar plot. Some man was wronged in the past, comes back as a gunslinger to kill his past tormentors, and winds up saving a town. The stories may be the same but the details differ.

Look at another movie like “Kelly’s Heroes” and “Three Kings” where the basic idea is that a bunch of American soldiers are caught in a war and try to survive while stealing a treasure in the process. Same plot, just a different war and characters.

Look at “Die Hard,” which spawned so many copycats like “Under Siege” where the basic plot is an underdog trapped and surrounded by dozens of terrorists, and the underdog wipes them all out. What made “Under Siege” interesting wasn’t its original story but its story construction that made its hero believable and vulnerable. “Under Siege,” like “Die Hard” wasn’t just about explosions and gunfire, but a compelling story where a hero has to solve a problem before the villain can win and do something with Horrible Consequences.

In “Die Hard” those consequences are killing all the hostages and in “Under Siege” those consequences are blowing up Hawaii with nuclear missiles. Same plot, but different details.

“Rocky” and “Cinderella Man” are both about washed up boxers fighting for a championship. “Back to the Future” and ”Peggy Sue Got Married” are both about going back in time to change the present. “Jaws” and “Alien” are both about dealing with a monster that seemingly can’t be killed. Every romantic comedy follows the same Boy Meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy Gets Girl plot.

Hollywood’s latest fascination is to remake good movies, but those remakes (such as “Arthur” or “The In-Laws”) inevitably turn out worse because they’re compared to a good movie. Take a look at a bad movie and if you see potential, borrow that story and fill it with your own characters.

This isn’t stealing in the sense of taking someone else’s idea and passing it off as your own. Instead, it’s simply taking the same plot and filling it with your own characters and events. Plots are free and reusable, so if you’re stuck for how to make your screenplay work, just take the easy way out, find a bad, obscure movie, rework the plot, and rewrite your screenplay around this borrowed plot. As long as you’re original in your characters, the originality of the plot is irrelevant.

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