Sometimes I feel this way when it comes to writing. I’ll sit down at the keyboard… and everything is just so derivative. Like, this is just Hamlet with lions. That’ll never sell.
Oh, wait. That’s Lion King.
See, so often writers can get hung up on originality. And it’s true; you don’t want to copy other people. At the same time, a smart guy once said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” So let me give you a little writing tip, free from me:
Be less concerned with writing an original story. Be more concerned with writing a story in an original way.
Look, whatever story you figure out, someone has done it before. Believe me. Take a look at how many books sell on Amazon. How many writers are there? Do you really think you have the capability of coming up with something that no one has every conceived of before?
Instead of trying to find that original story… find something original to say about that story. Find a different combination.
Shrek had been done so many times before. It’s Beauty and the Beast. That’s all it is. But look at how they told the story in original ways: This time, the hero is actually a big jerk. This time, use modern music. This time, have the princess choose to become the beast (kind of). And what came out was an old story told in a fairly original way.
How about Star Wars? The first movie was pretty standard. It’s literally just the Hero’s Journey in space. But by bringing in this Force business and making the princess sassy and self-reliant (and mixing in some fantastic special effects), we were treated to something relatively new.
And my novel? Keeper of Tales takes a very standard epic fantasy adventure story. Big bad guy is threatening all the good guy nations. Take one person from each of the good guy nations and go find the secret weakness of the bad guy.
But then I added in a wrinkle. What if the main characters told stories because they had to? What if stories were alive and forced you to live them out?
And then suddenly I was telling an epic fantasy where the characters themselves knew the tropes. They knew that, for instance, a prince had to go with them, and a prince would die.
But if that’s what you have to do to appease the stories… was it worth it?
And now, even though I was moving within a very old story form, I was telling a new story. Because the characters knew the tropes, they were able to speak to those tropes directly. Now it’s something original!
So, again, let me encourage you: Don’t get hung up on telling an original story. Instead, tell a story in an original way.