Everything's been done before!!! please help?

by John
(Utah, United States)

Hi glen.

First of all, sorry for that aggressive title, but I've been having this problem of avoiding cliches and such for quite some time...

So basically, I had an idea for a story; it's a fantasy war story/heroes journey story about an evil dragon that is coming/has already come to destroy the land.

Can you see that I'm already having trouble explaining it? That's because of how mixed up it's gotten over the months. The reason for all of this confusion is because when I first envisioned it, I thought I had a pretty solid story. So I got to work on it, only to realize that that plot model had been done many times before. So, trying to be unique and avoiding those dreaded cliches, I went ahead and mixed it up a little bit, you know, added more elements. However, I soon realized that THAT was done as well. So I changed the genre to be a war story, but mixed it with a heroes journey, and everything just fell apart from there.

Now, I find myself thinking "maybe it should be a mix of Lord of the Rings and Gladiator... Or maybe Harry Potter and Game of Thrones... But I still need that adventurous element in it, so I'll add The Hobbit into the mix..." And now, all I have left is this monstrous goop of a story that was once pure, simple, and compact.

I've re-done my story so many times, I don't even know what I want it to be about anymore, all I know is: Protagonist. Dragon. War. Evil. Victory. The End. And I know this all sounds really hysterical, but I really don't know what to do at this point. Should I scrap it all, and start with a clean slate? Should I ignore all other novels and movies and just craft my story regardless of cliches, similarities, and common themes?

I really don't want to give up entirely and just accept that there is no hope of success in the fantasy war and drama genre. But I don't want to be like "all those other novels" if you get my drift.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Answer: First the good news...

Don't worry about plot cliches. You're familiar with the Hero's Journey, so you know that one story model can be the backbone of hundreds of different stories. There are very few wholly original ideas in the world, but there are an infinite number of variations.

If you were to write a one paragraph summary of a story idea and give it to ten different writers, they would produce ten very different stories and only
a few readers would even notice the similarities. (How many people, for example, notice the similarity between Harry Potter and Star Wars: Episodes 4-6 until someone points it out to them?)

This is why you cannot copyright ideas, only the expression of the ideas -- the actual wording of your story.

What you should do is focus on the story you want to tell. What was the original idea that got you excited? Does it still excite you? If so, that's what you should be working on.

You might try to write this idea in the form of a logline -- a 1-2 sentence summary of the core idea. Here's the basic formula for a logline...


Now, if you are worried that your idea seems a little too close to a well-known work, what you should do is change maybe one thing about it. Give the story one twist, or add an element from something else. Don't make it a hodge-podge of too many ideas or twists. One major twist is enough. And make sure you choose a twist that excites you even more.

Chances are that the one change you make will necessitate other little changes to make the story consistent. Ask yourself what the ramifications of the change will mean to the story, and focus on resolving these issues. This process alone should result in an original story idea.

I would suggest you then structure the story using the 8 essential plot elements and the W-model. These are pretty open-ended tools that can apply to almost every story idea. Here are the links...


You will also find that even a well-used plot can seem fresh if it is cloaked in an original story world, or if it involves original characters (by that I mean in terms of their personalities more than their external traits). When readers become tired of the same type of hero, for example, that creates opportunity for a fresh take.

But the thing that will really make your story unique is how you tell it -- the point of view, style, and voice.

Find a main character with the right attitude, a narrator with a charming voice, or your own authentic personal writing style. Let the personality of the story come from you. That is the real source of originality.

If you follow these steps, the result will be a story that is all your own.

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Thank you!
by: John

Thank you Glen. I probably should have reread those sources more carefully before posting, but I think you nailed that answer. I think I need to step back, decide what story I really want to tell, and then go through your 8 step plot process again and really streamline the story and include elements that I envisioned in it.

Anyway, thanks for your answer!

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