I feel that there are several questions a writer should ask himself before beginning a story. Whether it is a movie, book, graphic novel, or any kind of fiction, He should know a few things about it before he begins:
- What makes this story unique? What does it give that others don’t?
- Why am I writing this story? What purpose does it fulfill?
- Who is my audience?
- What kind of story is it?
These are the questions I am always asking myself and trying to follow when I develop my plots. I see too many movies and read too many books which have what I call “copy-and-paste-story-lines”. What I mean by this is that too many stories follow a pattern that make them no different to others.
For example: A misunderstood teenager hates his life, and his parents just don’t understand the life he wants. The teenager pursues his dreams without his parents. The parents find out and he gets it huge trouble. Then, the parents realize he is actually really good at what he does and they need to let him live his life. To conclude: happy family and he gets to live his dream.
I have seen so many stories with basic concepts such as that. Even though they take place in different worlds (which masks the fact that they all have the same story), they are still just either copying each other or they are bringing nothing new to the table. These story lines tend to lack a unique connection to its world. For example, can the story be told in a viking world? A sports world? A pirate world? … can your story fit into whatever world it wants? If so, then I think something is lacking. This brings me to the first question.
What makes this story unique? What does it give that others don’t? If your story is not dependent on its world, then it might not be all that unique. If your plot revolves around a girl who just wants to find herself and live out her dream of becoming a superstar, the best soccer player on her team, the best female viking warrior, or the best pirate looter, than you might not be bringing anything new to the table. In reality they’re all the same story, just set in different worlds. Why should a reader pick up your book when any old ‘Dreamworks’ movie says the same thing?
When I think of story lines that offer something unique, I often think of Pixar (though there are a few exceptions such as Finding Nemo, Cars and Brave). Many of their stories just can’t be duplicated because they are telling unique stories in unique worlds.
Take Monsters Inc. as an example. What is the plot? Monsters have a power shortage. Little girl comes in through the door while the two main monsters try to get her out. They grow to love her and see kids aren’t all that bad. They get her home and solve the power shortage with children’s laughter. The only world where this story could work is the monster world that Pixar created. So in this story, the world is a part of the story, not just a way to embellish the plot.
On the other hand, movies like Brave seemed to lack the originality that Pixar usually has. It was a beautiful world (ancient Scotland, what could be more awesome?), and was well done for what it was, but it was extremely hard for me to enjoy just because it virtually had the same story line as “Freaky Friday”: mother and daughter learn to understand each other because of some magical spell. This story could take place in any world!
My aim is always to make stories that are unique and bring something new to the table. I also try to put them in a world that the reader has never experienced before. So as I am putting together the plot for my story, I always ask myself, “Could these characters and this story take place in any world?”
The next three questions will be answered in later blog posts.