The Shortcut to Plotting: Borrow Ideas From Other Stories

Many writers try to come up with totally original ideas for a story. That’s usually a waste of time because there re really no original plots; just original ways to tell the same plot.

The next time you get stuck for an idea, try borrowing an idea from another story. If you saw “John Wick: Chapter 4,” you’ll notice a scene where John Wick is trying to get to a certain location while a woman radio DJ broadcasts his location for assassins to track him. This plot technique tells the audience where John Wick is in a creative and interesting way.

Yet if you watch “The Warriors” back in 1979, you would have seen this exact same technique used as the Warriors gang tries to make their way back home through gang-infested territory while a female DJ broadcasts their location for the other gangs to find them.

It’s the exact same technique, but it works. The key to borrowing ideas from other stories is to use an idea that most people will have either forgotten or were never aware of in the first place. If another movie comes out with a similar technique of a female DJ broadcasting the location of the hero over the radio, people would likely see its connection to “John Wick: Chapter 4” and this knowledge would distract them from enjoying the story.

Many science fiction stories like “Star Wars” are basically Westerns in space. “Alien” was a horror story in space. Plots can be similar but the details of this tory is what makes each story unique and interesting.

So the lesson is simple. Rather than try to reinvent the wheel, borrow from the best stories in the world. Even Shakespeare borrowed ideas from other stories. Telling an original story is impossible, but telling a story in an original way is what will separate your story from everyone else’s.

Ordinary plots + your own creativity is what makes original stories. So don’t waste your time looking for original plots. Spend your time telling ordinary plots in original ways. It’s a subtle difference but it can make all the difference in the world.

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