Part of what helped make most of us into the passionate writers we are today are all the stories that have come before ours. All the romances, adventures, mysteries, and so on. And for me, not only have they spurned a passion for writing, but they've also inspired specific stories.
Yes, I have gotten ideas for my own novels from books or even movies that I've read and seen before. We're all aware that certain storylines are done and redone and done again. Cinderella, for example, and all the others that were based off the story. A woman living with step-sisters, working as the maid of the house, transforms for a time to meet the prince and fall in love. Or even a storyline not so specific. Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl cannot be together, but alas, they find a way and there's a happily ever after.
There are times when I'll see a movie or read a book and think, "Hey, that was my idea!" Of course, someone else just got to it first. If you're in the same boat as me, there are ways to take a familiar idea and transform it into something different, because no matter how original we are, there are always going to be stories that sound like ours in some way or another and it's up to us to stand out.
There are three key elements that make up a story, giving you three categories in which to change certain details to make the story more your own and more unique.
Occupations - Giving your character a unique job that helps define their personality and who they are is a great way to get a new twist on a familiar story.
Characteristics/Personalities - Examine characteristics and personalities in a familiar story or the story you've already established. What characteristics or personality traits can you give your character to make them stand out?
Backstory and Current Surroundings - This is your opportunity to develop a unique past that shapes who your character is, and their current situation could have them living in an unusual place next to an unusual neighbor that adds more character to the story.
Secondary Characters - Intriguing characters make readers want to continue reading. Make a twist on familiar characters to freshen them up and add more substance.
This is where the "what if" question comes into play. If you have a similar storyline, stop it at each plot point and ask "what if". If you're going with the same scenario mentioned above and this is the moment when boy meets girl, ask questions that differ from that storyline. If boy and girl are supposed to fall in love, ask "what if" they severely dislike each other at first. Ask "what if" the thing keeping them apart is something the reader hasn't seen before.
Give your story new life by dropping it in a unique place. Changing or creating a setting is a fun way to give your story a new twist. Let your characters interact with that setting. Let that setting act as another character for the story and give it its own unique characteristics that will charm readers.
Give a familiar storyline a chance for a unique appearance by offering up these twists. Or even take a storyline you have that doesn't feel full enough and write out each plot point, each character, and the setting, and examine them. Find a twist to help make each category unique and then apply it to your story.
Have you ever had a story idea you've found is familiar or resembles another story you've heard or read? Do you continue with that story, and if so, what do you do to make it unique?