We've all heard it. Put a fresh spin on an old (or common) plot, and you can make it work. But what if your idea is something that is so well known and well loved that you fear it's impossible to find a new angle?
I offer the boy at wizard school premise.
Let's see if you can name this novel...
A boy goes off to wizard school. It's really hard, he's sure one of his teachers is trying to kill him, one of the other students taunts and bullies him at every turn. His family wants nothing to do with him and one of his friends is someone the others pick on all the time.
Harry Potter, you say?
Both Skin Hunger and Harry Potter deal with boys at wizard school, but you'd never confuse the two books. Kathleen Duey and JK Rowling brought their own style and twists to the simple premise, and created wildly different novels. Because a boy at wizard school is just a premise, not a story. The story comes from what happens at that school and the problems that boy has to overcome there.
If you're looking at a common premise you know you want to write about, but are afraid to because it's too much like Harry Potter/Twilight/Wheel of Time/Da Vinci Code, take a step back and think outside the book.
Start by doing a little research to see what's already been done in that premise. Make a list of the plot points. Then start looking for things that aren't on that list.
- Is there a character who can be involved in this premise that's totally different from what's come before?
- Can the setting make it different? Shift it into the future or the past? (This has worked for many modern retellings of fairy tales)
- Can you change it culturally?
- Can you play with the narrator's perspective? (Gregory Maguire did this successfully with Wicked)
- Is there an aspect of it that hasn't been explored?
- Could you add something from another genre to it? (Diana Gabaldon added time travel to her historic romances)
- Could you do it in a totally different genre than expected?
Finding a fresh take on a well-loved idea is challenging, but people do it all the time, and often we slap our heads and say, "Why didn't I think of that!"
With a little (okay maybe a lot) of effort, you can think of it.
Do you have any common premise ideas in your novel files? Or an old trunk novel you'd like to put a fresh spin on? Have you put a fresh spin on an old idea successfully?
Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel. It's also a great guide for revisions!
Janice Hardy is the founder of Fiction University, and the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, (Picked as one of the 10 Books All Young Georgians Should Read, 2014) Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now.
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