Lewis Carroll wrote, ‘Learn to look at all things with a mental squint.’ This is great advice and can be applied to all aspects of storytelling, even plot.
In her Hunger Games series, Suzanne Collins uses the ancient Greek mythology of Theseus and the Minotaur to create her fictional world for young adult readers. She saw it with a new lens and for a new audience.
If you want to apply the mental squint, Christian Bale’s two famous roles – Batman Begins and American Psycho – are similar in that they explore a powerful anti-hero who hides behind a mask – one literally (as a superhero) and figuratively (as a suave stockbroker).
Nicci French’s Secret Smile and Carol Smith’s Fatal Attraction share very similar characters, plots, and themes – but each approach the story in a different way, a different plot.
Where to start?
The idea is to start with familiar ideas or plot frameworks, then come up with new approaches. A good idea is to find your ideas store or repository. Or simply list as many books or stories as you can from memory on a blank page.
Right now, I’d list some recent books I’ve read or movies I’ve seen: James Patterson and Candice Fox’s Black and Blue, the Jane Fonda movie Peace, Love & Misunderstanding, the live-action Disney Beauty & the Beast.
How does it look on the page?
- Beauty and the Beast is a good one, because a lot of stories develop from fairytales. So what if you had the Beast as a psychology rather a physiology? A beautiful psychiatrist has to treat a misunderstood serial killer – and ends up falling in love. Dark? Yes? Radical? Probably – but it’s something new.
- In Peace, Love & Misunderstanding, the grandmother figure is the rebellious flower child-slash-hippie who never grew up, much to her strait-laced daughter’s chagrin. Here you’d have an opportunity to explore a bit of 60s culture. Why not have an ex-hippie being sent back in time to re-live Woodstock? It could have flavours of Back to the Future and even Austin Powers.
- In Black & Blue by James Patterson and Candice Fox, you have a tough female detective investigating a crime in Australia – with the help of a controversial partner who may be a killer himself. Why not look at locations near to you, or settings that haven’t been explored? A detective story set in Mumbai, India or Salvador, Brazil? The setting can add a fresh new element to the story.
Play with the ideas. You can use the same lamp, as it were, as long as you shine a different light on the familiar.
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