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The issue of uniquely creative story ideas and originality has come up several times in the last few weeks, both here on WTW and in class. Here’s what teen writers have been telling me:

“I had this great idea, but then I realized (or a friend pointed out) that it sounds like ______________, so now I can’t write that story because it’s already been done.”

Woah – back up. EVERY story has already been written. There’s even a name for it…archetypes.

There are archetypal plots such as:

  • the quest – hero faces obstacles in his journey away from home to________. Think The Odyssey, Harry Potter, Paper Towns, or Hunger Games.
  • the romance  – boy meets girl, attraction ensues, but they can’t be together, until they overcome the obstacle and end up together. Think Eleanor and Park, Boy Meets Boy, or The Fault in Our Stars.
  • the rags to riches story – poor or orphan child somehow uses their talents to become powerful/wealth. Think Harry Potter, Jane Eyre, or Cinderella.

There are also archetypal characters.

So, is it possible to write something original?

Of course! The reason is because nobody can tell a story like you can. There is a strategy at the bottom of this post to help you out with this…

In 1970, there was a bestseller called Love Story. They even made a movie based on the novel. The plot? Two young people fall in love and then one of them is diagnosed with cancer and dies. Woah…isn’t that the plot of A Fault in Our Stars?

Yep. It is, but they’re both original because John Green doesn’t tell a romance/cancer story in the same way Erich Segal did. If you were to write a romance with cancer elements, you would write something completely original because nobody else can tell the story that you have in your head.

Essayist and journalist Anna Quindlen said it best,

“Every story has already been told. Once you’ve read Anna Karenina, Bleak House, The Sound and the Fury, To Kill a Mockingbird and A Wrinkle in Time, you understand that there is really no reason to ever write another novel. Except that each writer brings to the table, if she will let herself, something that no one else in the history of time has ever had.”  [Commencement Speech; Mount Holyoke College, May 23, 1999]

The message here is to write that story, even if somebody says they read something like it. They might have, but your version will be YOUR OWN UNIQUE STORY.

Let me share a visual example. One of my favorite hobbies is quilting. Some friends all made a quilt following the same exact pattern. Think of the pattern as the “archetype.” They then chose their own fabrics, colors, and placement of each of those fabrics. Think of those as the characters, setting, conflicts, goals. They then created quilts that are wholly unique. It’s difficult to tell they are even the same pattern unless you look closely. Stories are no different.

creative story ideasstory archetypesstory archetypes

So, if a well meaning friend tells you not to write a story because “that’s already been done,” ignore them. You have all your own creative story ideas, so…Write on! Below is a strategy for using archetypes to develop your own super creative story.

Put it in Action

1) Think about your favorite novel or short story.

2) Write out the plot line, including only the major events. For example, if I were to plot Divergent, I might write: In a rite of passage, a teen character leaves her family and must battle for survival in her new living arrangement. The government begins to attack citizens…etc. If you do this story for Harry Potter, you’ll find that the outline is identical to Star Wars  ie. orphan boy raised by aunt an uncle gets a message…..

3) Think about how you could change the characters, setting, conflicts, and character goals to make your story completely original.

4) Write that story!

Share your outline in the comments below.