How to be Original in an Already Crowded Genre

Let’s face it.

Originality is hard to come by these days. Sometimes it seems like all the good ideas have already been taken and written. And this just isn’t some modern day problem either. Even authors in the times of yesteryear faced this dilemma. 

But if you’re, for example, a new author wanting to write mystery novels in the long-established genres of mysteries and thrillers, where should you begin?

Surprisingly enough, it’s much easier than you think it would be. Whether it’s writing a children’s book or a cozy mystery novel, sometimes all you need is a push in the right direction. Let’s take a look at some ways you can combat this situation and emerge victorious. 

Improve on an existing story. 

Sometimes, the best ideas are adaptations of pre-existing ones. 

The movie Alien was pitched to producers as “Jaws in Space.” Simply changing the setting of a successful concept paved the way for a new movie that stood on its own merits and felt original. 

So in your writing, instead of starting from scratch, start with this thought exercise: “What if this already popular story was different in this way?” For example, “What if Bruce Wayne lost all his money? Could he still be Batman?” That’s a book idea, albeit probably a copyrighted one.

Or try this on for size: “What if Homer’s Odyssey were set in the 1930s?” That’s the premise of the Coen Brothers’ 2000 film, O’ Brother Where Art Thou? It follows the story of three Depression-Era chain gang escapees looking for a lost treasure. The movie is largely adapted from Homer’s Odyssey — with the main protagonist even being named Ulysses Everett McGill. However, the drastic change in setting took a classic idea and formed something new and original.

Instead of trying to make every part of your book a revelation of new ideas, why not find a framework that you know will connect and use your creativity to make it your own?

Get authentic with your writing.

There is one absolute, surefire way to ensure that you have an original idea. 

Use a story from your own life.

Your own personal journey is 100% unique. Sure, there may be commonalities between your life and others, but no two individuals are exactly alike. Using explicit details from your life can spice up your story and make it something of your very own. Remember, the devil is in the details.

This is a great way to create memorable, original characters as well. Look back at your childhood. Who really stands out in your mind and why? Did they have any funny quirks or attributes that make them unforgettable? 

Incorporate these details into your characters, and you’ll be guaranteed an original story — from your first sentence to your last. 

Take a trip down the rabbit hole. 

Do you recall the part in the famous children’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland where she initially falls down the rabbit hole? She’s in a downward spiral to who knows where, surrounded by familiar things. Clocks, cupboards and furniture all pass by her, but they slowly morph into more curious things. Until BOOM! She lands neatly on the ground in some altered version of her perceived reality.

Believe it or not, this bizarre scene is a great picture of how to be creative with your writing. By starting with something normal and allowing your mind to go deeper and deeper into new and creative ideas. 

The real challenge is learning how to harness this ability and put it to use. Here’s how you can build your own existential rabbit hole:

  1. Take a look at your preferred genre and write down all of the recurring themes and topics you can think of. The ones you want to pay the most attention to are the thoughts that occur most frequently. For example, if you’re a crime writer, murder may come to mind. Followed by strangulation, stabbings, and gunshots. These can all be related to murder. Jot these ideas down.
  1. Next, compare your lists. What did you keep coming back to? Continuing with the example, we’ll say murder and robbery kept coming to mind. Think about how you can combine these two. Is the real goal the murder with a robbery used as a cover up? Or a robbery gone wrong? Now these are just two variables. But combine them with the other commonalities and use word associations with these as above… You can easily craft an original idea or plot points. 

A great example of this can be found in the Austin Powers movies. Dr. Evil is a Bond villain parody who wants to take down the titular hero. By combining two methods of previous Bond-style–from Goldfinger and Thunderball to be exact–Dr Evil’s plot involves “sharks with frickin laser beams attached to their foreheads.”  

Summary: Story Trumps Creativity

If you’re worried there are no good ideas left, take a deep breath and give yourself the gift of inner peace. I just showed you three ways to prime your brain for creativity; and the truth is, a good story is more important anyway. 

Consider the Star Wars movie The Force Awakens — a new sci fi story for a younger generation. What new concepts did it bring to the galaxy from long ago and far away? Not many. And yet it got 93% from critics and 86% from fans on Rotten Tomatoes. 

Creativity is good, but it’s not the ultimate goal of storytelling. What is? Simply to connect with your audience in a meaningful way. 

And how do you that?

Well, it might require a little creativity. 


Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

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