“There’s no story that hasn’t already been written.” It’s an old chestnut dusted off by every jaded critic and frustrated writer. And while there is a grain of truth to it, there’s considerably more B.S. A familiar subject doesn’t mean you have to retread what you’ve already seen. I’ll even provide you with an example.
How about a werewolf story?
Okay, the first things that come to mind are the classics, with The Wolfman, The Howling, and An American Werewolf in London at the top of the list. A few more recent offerings such as Dog Soldiers and the Underworld series also spring to mind. And just within this list of films we have an array of vastly different plots. Yes, they all have at least one werewolf. But could someone really argue that Dog Soldiers has anything else in common with The Howling beyond the monster? Let’s see…
The Howling: A reporter recovering from an attack by a serial killer goes to an isolated retreat with her husband. While there, her spouse is seduced by one of the residents and the reporter discovers that the entire community is composed of werewolves who have managed to integrate into human society (with the exception of that serial killer who is once again on his feet and hunting).
Dog Soldiers: A group of soldiers on a training exercise find the unit they were to be pitted against slaughtered. Taking the one surviving member of the other team with them, a number of the men are killed while retreating until they encounter a woman who offers them shelter in an isolated cottage.
While I won’t write summaries of all the movies I mentioned, I can assure you that they are all this diverse regarding their plots. And I guarantee you, this is no coincidence. When writing in any genre, it’s important to be familiar with the work that preceded your own. If there are overused tropes, avoid them like the plague. If something in your original idea happens to overlap with another story, twist that part of your concept enough to breath new life into it. Don’t settle for imitation. Because in the end, what do you remember? The derivative sequels that were made to earn a quick buck, or the original that broke new ground?