How to Make an Old Plot New

 

by Andrea Lundgren

 

Plots have been recycled ever since stories have been told, reusing themes like sacrificial death, the poor becoming rich, the ugly becoming beautiful, and other archetypes. Even great works like those of Shakespeare or Jane Austen can be traced to other influences, ideas, and concepts, but how do you make an old plot new? How do you avoid making it seem like fanfiction or a warmed-over version of something that’s already been done?

 

Recognize that it can be done. Nothing defeats creativity faster than a feeling like what you’re doing is pointless. From Hamlet to Sense and Sensibility to Wicked and Ever After, new versions of old stories can be enjoyable, original, and fun.

Look for something different you can bring to the tale. It could be selecting an alternative narrative method, like turning it into a graphic novel or musical, or it could be changing the point-of-view from someone like Cinderella to her stepsister. It could be adding something like zombies or a high sense of morality to the main character (as Shakespeare did in Hamlet), or added action and adventure and history to an otherwise fanciful tale (as done in Ever After).

Restructure the story to fit the new material. Whatever you add needs to belong. It can’t just be an afterthought, and the restructuring process will help make it more original. (And, if you find the story restructuring until it hardly resembles the original inspiration, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.)

Remember that small things can make a big difference. The Prince of Egypt kept the original plot, but it focused on the relationship between Moses and Rameses, making the question of family and faith take center stage. Similarly, Hamlet kept the revenge plot and the deaths intact, but changed how Hamlet responded things, to where he took things far more to heart than the original. As a result, the story was completely different.

 

When all else fails, have your friends, family, beta readers, or book coaches take a look at it. Chances are, you might be overly sensitive to the similarities when they might not exist for most readers. And even if they do, with help and these four steps, you should be able to brainstorm your way into something new and delightful.

 

 

 

Guest post contributed by Andrea Lundgren. When she isn’t helping authors bring their stories to life as a book and blurb writing coach, Andrea enjoys writing book reviews and exploring life from a writer’s point of view at her blog.

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20 thoughts on “How to Make an Old Plot New”

  1. Ecclesiastes teaches us ‘there is nothing new under the sun;’ perhaps that kept me from writing until I was 47. A visual novel and three trad novels later….

    After 6k years of the written word, yeah: odds are it’s been done. But! It’s never been done quite like as you’re about to! The characters, the dialog, the resolution… it’s going to be all YOU.

    You’re about to change the world. Again.
    Do it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A friend of mine told me that my idea has been done before. However what I sometimes try and do is think of where it has been done and so try and think of how I could differentiate the idea somewhat. I am currently writing a detective story and I am trying to think of every aspect of the plot and trying to, which stories have I read that that has been done in before and could I change it in any way and where could I be original.

    Like

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