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  • ekbray6

The art of creating when things have been created for thousands of years

Updated: Apr 16, 2023


You have lived a life that is unique from any one else’s in the history of this universe. Which is pretty cool, but you may still think you haven’t gotten a single new and fresh idea.


The truth, while your life is uniquely different, it is similar in some ways to others. Not all the ways, but similar. Your story ideas can be like that too.


Let’s take an, in my opinion, overrated love story: Romeo and Juliet. The star crossed lovers. Its been done. Like a million times, but people keep writing about it. Why? Because we, as a society, love that story. Who cares that it has been done before?


You need to find your angle.


Continuing with Romeo and Juliet for a minute lets think of all the ways we have seen this story adapted.

We have modern adaptations. New places, new time period.

We have different reasons for groups to hate each other: gangs, warring nations, ranchers, city folk v country folk, rich v. poor, famous v. anonymous, differing planets, environmental concerns v. technology companies, you name it.

We have different types of characters: gay characters, lesbian characters, trans characters, characters of different races/ethnicities, alien characters, disabled characters, magic characters, etc.

We have different genres: fantasy, sci-fi, murder mystery.

And those are just the things I came up with in the last five minutes. While the stroy has been done a million times, there are always new combinations to try. New ways to tell the same story. You have to make it unique.


Chances are as a writer, you have read a lot. (If you haven’t put this blog down and go read a little). In those amazing stories you consumed, you saved some of the favorite bits in your mind. They have become a part of you. It is why we tend to like certain tropes. They speak to us.


Personally I love a found family, a friends to lovers plot, magic, and a good old fashioned heist. These are stories I come back to again and again. If I never tried to make any of them new, I wouldn’t be able to write my favorite kinds of stories, and that would be tragic.


So what makes your story different?


What are you bringing to the table that is new? What are you bringing to the table that is fresh?


First it might be important to break down the type of story you want to write into all of its different parts.

Here are some of the things you might want to write down: Genre, plot, characters, setting, etc. Then you might want to compare it with another story: Such as Romeo and Juliet

Original Romeo and Juliet Set in (at the time) contemporary Verona. (Now this would be considered historical fiction) Novel

Completely Made up Story for this Blog Set in the made up world of Balkesh A world similar to the 1890s

Romeo: A wealthy man looking for love. Sneaks into a party and after seeing Juliet falls madly in love with her. Juliet: A wealthy girl who falls in love with Romeo after a party, and doesn’t take the advice of others to let him go.

Characters: Sereth: A poor boy who sneaks into the lavish Balkesh ball in order to steal jewelry from the wealthy. Carl: A spy from another country pretending to be part of the upper crust. He does not want to get close to anyone due to his spy title and actively tries to reject Sereth’s attention.

Plot: After a party, the two lovers decide they must be together After, deciding they will try to bring tier families together, Romeo, in a fit of rage kills Juliet’s cousin after he kills Romeo’s best friend. Romeo is banished from Verona, and Juliet tries to fake die so she can be with him. Instead he thinks she is dead and kills himself. She kills herself when she wakes to find him dead.

Plot: After the party, the two have feelings for each other, but they both know they can not be together. When Carl’s spying goes wrong, he must run to the underworld with Sereth. Sereth bent on helping Carl back into the world of the rich places the blame on himself becoming the target. Sereth, now to be executed, is saved by Carl, only to reveal he was a spy the whole time. They run away together to neither country.


**Teaching Note: I have done this with students using notecards. Each note card might be a plot point or a character. Having something tactile for students can be a great help for some. I always like to give students choices when in the pre-drafting process. All of our brains work differently. Some like timelines (or using plot maps) others like bullet point lists, some need to spend time drawing their characters or places out. I find one of our jobs as teachers to teach lots of different ways to give students the best opportunity to find what works for them.


As you can see from the above table, these are very different stories. However, they both have a reason the people can not be together, and some sacrifice to be made at the end. The completely made up story, also has elements from other stories (spies, pretending you are the criminal to save the one you love, a rich person being thrown into the underworld, etc.) By combining ideas you have created your own story.


Maybe this metaphor will help. Writing is like baking. Each ingredient on their own is a part of the story, but what you do when you combine them is your own.

No


w, if you are writing FANFIC then you might take whole characters, settings, etc. and create something with them, but outside of that you do want things to be your own creative ideas.


Before you despair that there are no new ideas left, look around

-How many successful crime books/TV shows are there? People still read/watch them.

-How many books are there about ordinary high


school kids? People still read them.

-How many stories about unicorns grace the walls of a library? I probably read all of them when I was twelve, and I still loved them. (It was a phase I had forgotten all about until my sister brought it up the other day)


Creativity comes from adapting the pieces of the recipe into something new and delicious. Why else do all of the grandmas have different secret chocolate chip cookie recipes? But more then that, if we couldn’t adapt ideas into something else, then you wouldn’t be able to put chocolate chips into anything else. No, extra choc-chip brownies, or mint chip ice cream.


Innovating is what authors do.


The recipe metaphor not clicking with you? Think of your ideas like puzzle pieces. You are borrowing a piece or two from thousands of different puzzles and rearranging them to make a completely new puzzle.


Sometimes you might be halfway through writing a piece, and realize there is a similar story out there. It can be disheartening to realize that it’s so similar to something else, especially when you didn’t even know about the other piece. This is a great place to plug reading! Reading exposes you to lots of stories and makes you more aware of the stories out there.


But what do you do when you are staring at your draft and you feel like it's a copy. It’s time to rearrange the puzzle. Don’t give up because you think “it’s been done before.” Instead, think my idea is already tested well with audiences and now it's time to make it fresh and new.


Don’t get me wrong, plagiarism is a huge issue. And the future of AI is terrifying for me as a creative writing teacher. We have been talking about borrowing tropes, ideas, concepts, not characters, worlds, etc. If you have any confusion on this point or would like clarification let me know in the comments or shoot me a message on the contact me page.


In the next blog post we are going to be looking into how to find your passion in writing. It’s a great way to think about how to make something fresh and new.



**Teaching Note (LESSON PLAN)

A lot of students feel that coming up with a story “that was already written” is proof that they are not creative enough to be a writer. It can be really hard to pull them out of this funk. I suggest pre-teaching things like tropes to help them see that a writer's job is to create and innovate. A suggested lesson might look like this.

Pre-Teach Some Tropes: (common ones that students understand are romance tropes)

Friends to Lovers

Strangers to lovers

Enemies to Lovers

Etc.


Have them (as a group or individually) come up with as many books, movies, video games, graphic novels, TV shows, etc. that has one of those tropes. Make a big list. I suggest having kids write on the big paper themselves to get them up and moving.


Then have students choose 3 of those examples from one trope that they know well. If students are having trouble picking 3, you can also have them do this with small groups where each student picks an example they know well. Then find all the similarities and differences they can.


As a group see if any other stories had similar differences. See if any of those are also tropes (chosen one, prophecy, found families, etc.)


You may want to have students create posters explaining different tropes and hang them around the room as anchor charts when they get stuck. If you love a metaphor you can have all of the different tropes be under a title of “story ingredients,” “Story menu,” or “puzzle pieces to borrow” This may help students feel like they can use them in their own stories.

***Want to add a reading element? Have students recommend books for each of the tropes you define. Students suggesting what to read goes sooo much further than me telling students to read.***


Let me know if you would like more lesson plans in the future. My current school teaches on a 1.5 hour every other day block, but let me know if you would prefer to see hour-ish lesson plans. Or if you would like them in another format. After 10 years of teaching my lesson plans to myself are often a sticky note with bullet points (but I know I am lucky to be in a school where admin trusts me to have a great lesson prepared)


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