Original Fic Tip: Steal, but don't plagiarize
Today my MP3 player reminded me of one of my favorite ways to kick-start an original fic - do a remix! The song I was listening to was "Cumberland Gap", a nineteenth century dance tune. Cumberland Gap was a big hit - but it wasn't actually a new tune. Some enterprising musician had taken the old "Bonny George Campbell" ballad, and played it in a higher key, with a much faster tempo.
Now, you may not have heard of "Cumberland Gap" (unless you are a traditional music nerd, like me) but you've probably heard of other remixes. Two popular ones that come immediately to mind are "On Top of Old Smokey" and "House of the Rising Sun", both based on older, very different songs.
Of course, the remixing doesn't stop with songs. The musical West Side Story takes its conflict straight from Romeo and Juliet. Disney's Lion King was spun from the plot of Hamlet. Pullman's Dark Materials is a retelling of Paradise Lost. Even characters aren't safe from being borrowed. Wicked borrows characters from The Wizard of Oz, while Stephanie Barron's mysteries borrow the author herself, Jane Austen!
Here's five ways to remix a story, taken from this article.
1. Ask yourself, “what if?”
This is one of the easiest ways to twist a well-known tale. What if Cinderella didn’t have her fairy godmother? What if Romeo and Juliet had gotten a happily ever after? One little kink in the original plot and you have yourself a whole new story to explore.
2. Set it in a different time and/or place.
Taking a classic story and setting it in modern times is a common trope, as seen in many versions of Shakespeare’s works. You can also put a modern tale in the past, or in space, or under the sea. Mess around with different ideas until something sparks your interest.
3. Change the genders of the characters.
One of my NaNoWriMo projects was a Sherlock Holmes retelling, except Sherlock and Watson were young women. That, along with various other twists on the characters, was enough to make familiar people fresh and intriguing.
You could do this with every character in the story, or just a few, or maybe only one person. See how the dynamics change.
4. Change the ages.
What happens if the adults in a particular situation were teenagers instead? How about the opposite? What if the teenagers became elderly people? It’s another deceptively simple tactic that can put a whole new spin on things.
5. Borrow from song lyrics.
Often times a three or four-minute song tells an incredibly complex story. If you dissect the lyrics and expand on the plot, add more characters, and bring out the heart of the song, you could have an entire short story or novel waiting to be written.
Go forth and create!