Monday, March 06, 2006

Raping Plots!

(A Gothic Romeo & Juliet)

Originality is Overrated
When designing a car, why stop to reinvent the wheel if someone else has already done all the research and done it better?

Why work when you don’t have to?

Why struggle trying to find a good story, and interesting characters, when the data on what people already like is right there in front of us?

When it comes to figuring out what is popular in a story, Hollywood has streamlined just about everything: plot, setting and character. A quick perusal of the top box office hits tells us point blank what stories the general public liked Best.

(of all time)

1. Gone With the Wind (1939)
2. Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)
3. The Sound of Music (1965)
4. E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
5. The Ten Commandments (1956)
6. Titanic (1997)
7. Jaws (1975)
8. Doctor Zhivago (1965)
9. The Exorcist (1973)
10. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

for 2006
  1. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (Historical Fantasy PG-13)
  2. Night at the Museum (Suspense/Fantasy PG)
  3. Cars (Contemporary Fantasy G)
  4. X-Men: The Last Stand (Contemporary Fantasy PG-13)
  5. The Da Vinci Code (Mystery/Suspense PG-13)
  6. Superman Returns (Contemporary Fantasy PG-13)
  7. Happy Feet (Fantasy - G)
  8. Ice Age: The Meltdown (Historical Fantasy G)
  9. Casino Royale (Action/Suspense PG-13)
  10. The Pursuit of Happyness (True-Life/Inspirational PG-13)
What does this list tell you?
In 2006, the viewers preferred Fantasies and Happy Endings; specifically with clearly defined Good-Guys that did good things for bad reasons & Bad-Guys that did bad things for good reasons. People wanted ESCAPISM and HOPE.

Why Not take advantage of all that plotting & character foot-work and write what people are already looking for -- only Better?

Ransacking & Renovation
Take a look at your personal DVD movie shelf. I bet there’s a whole bunch of movies that are (in your personal opinion,) ALMOST perfect. Stories that Could have been perfect but fell just a bit short; stories with tons of potential just waiting to be told properly.
  • Plots that could have used one more twist.
  • The tragic ending that could have been happy.
  • Secondary characters that should have had their own story.
  • The Heroine the Hero should have preferred.
  • The Regency Romance that would have made a better Sci-Fi.
  • The Hero from one story that would have done better with the Heroine from another story entirely.
  • The TSTL Heroine that should have been Kick-ass.
So, DO IT. Yank them off your movie shelf, and write them better. Figure out the flaws in all those stories, and FIX them. Once you've changed the setting, the genre, the characters’ appearances and their personal backgrounds… Voila! ~ Instant Brand New ORIGINAL Story!

How simple can you get?

“Wait a minute!
Isn’t that STEALING?”
-----Original Message-----
I'm sorry but I think that's just wrong. Apart from copyright infringement issues it seems creatively sterile to me. I realize that every story ever told has already been written but to deliberately steal other people's ideas leaves me with a very nasty taste in my mouth.
-- Concerned about Copying

Dear Concerned,
- What is so terrible about finding a way to make what’s been proven to work, something already popular, something “Tried & True” – into something fresh?

Borrowing whole plots didn’t stop WEST SIDE STORY the Broadway play, (a direct and unashamed ‘Romeo & Juliet’ rip-off,) from being a tremendous hit, or the Broadway play CAMELOT, (a rip off of TS Elliot’s ‘Once & Future King’) or MY FAIR LADY, (a rip off of the Greek myth ‘Pygmalion’.)

Seriously, Hollywood ransacks and renovates all the time! There must be a million and one Frankenstein, Dracula, Phantom of the Opera, and Sherlock Holms adaptations. The movie "UNDERWORLD" was openly marketed as a gothic ‘Romeo & Juliet’.

STAR WARS is a carbon copy of Kurosawa’s Samurai/Ninja movie ‘The Hidden Fortress’– including the comedic antics of two highly recognizable ‘Laurel & Hardy’ characters. (For goodness sake, they’re Still in Japanese costumes!)

In case you haven’t spotted it, Walt Disney ransacks and renovates EVERYBODY, and makes a ton of cash doing it too! Just about every single Walt Disney Adventure movie, from BEAUTY & THE BEAST to THE LION KING to HERCULES to MULAN to TARZAN was ransacked from elsewhere. TREASURE PLANET is a very unashamed rewrite of ‘Treasure Island’ – and one of my favorite movies.

The Original Romance?
Romance, erotic or otherwise, has only TWO plotlines, so it's kind of hard NOT to follow in someone else’s footsteps. In fact, how can you AVOID it? Really?

The “Happily Ever After” Romance Plotline
(Used in 1001 paperbacks)
  1. The Lovers meet -- and have Issues.
  2. The Lovers' Issues drive them apart.
  3. The Lovers realize that they can't live without each other. "Oh no, it's Love!"
  4. The Lovers battle odds to get back to each other -- fixing their Issues along the way.
  5. He's forgiven, she's forgiven, everybody's forgiven... "I love you!" -- and they shack up together.

The “Romeo & Juliet” Tragic Romance Plotline
  1. The Lovers meet -- and have Issues.
  2. The Lovers' Issues drive them apart.
  3. The Lovers realize that they can't live without each other. "Oh no, it's Love!"
  4. The Lovers battle odds to get back to each other.
  5. He dies, she dies -- and everybody cries over the cruelty of True Love.
The trick to making the well-worn Romance plot original is to ADD another whole Plotline (pick a genre, any genre,)!
  • Romeo & Juliet + horrific disaster from old newspapers = TITANIC
  • Happily Ever After + High school in the American 50’s = GREASE

To be Perfectly Clear...
I am NOT saying you should copy anyone else's work.
I am merely suggesting a way to jump-start a story by modeling it after a story that's already been proven to work, through popularity, then make extensive changes to disguise the original source.

As long as you shift genres, change the characters around a bit, and don't use any trademarked names or designations, you won't step on any copyrighted toes.

It’s not what you HAVE.
It’s what you DO with it.
When it comes to making Original Fiction, it’s NOT how unique the plot is, it’s Your VISION of that plot that makes it fresh and different!
  • Alice in Wonderland + CyberPunk = THE MATRIX
  • Treasure Island + James Bond = NATIONAL TREASURE
  • Robinson Caruso + Space Aliens = ET
  • Romeo & Juliet + the Old South = GONE WITH THE WIND
Hollywood ransacks and renovates, then mixes and matches whole plotlines all the time. Look at all those box-office smashes. What other proof do you need?

In Conclusion:
If ‘ransacking and renovating’ is not something you want to do, GOOD! Less competition for me. If you think I’m a hack for doing so, that’s okay too, but just so you know, I’m crying all the way to the bank – along with just about every top author in the writing biz, and in the movie biz.

It all boils down to your personal choice:
  • Do you really want to spend your whole life searching for, and perfecting, something Original?
  • Or do you wanna make money?
I don’t know about you, but I need the cash. I don’t have the time to waste ‘reinventing the wheel’ when so many others have already spent their lives perfecting it. I have books to write and bills to pay.

Morgan Hawke


  1. Oh noes! She is saying that writing is something other than a golden, very personal dream to be coddled. She's saying it's work.

    Keep in mind that when Trollope said the same thing (posthumously) his sales fell off (precipitously.)

    Me, if I'm ever asked what writing is, I'll tell them it's an extremely spiritual thing, like going to church. I'll tell them it's a religious epiphany like a drug experience.

    When in fact it's much more like work...

  2. Hey Jeremiah,
    - LOL! I've always said writing is work. I believe in "TRUTH in Advertising".

    You can't be caught in a lie if you don't lie to begin with.

    Those who work their butts off to make a really good story should get credit for all the heart and soul, sweat and tears they put into something for others to enjoy.

    And for those who strive to write their first really good story -- disillusionment can't happen if they already know what to expect.

    It's like having this really cool video game, (your imagination.)

    - There are those that use the cheat codes to get through the game because they wanna see all the cool graphics, (Readers)...
    - And there are those that refuse to use the cheat codes because they wanna Do It for REAL, (Writers).

    It's the ones that do it for real that spend years learning the skills to play the game properly to the end. They WORK at their gaming, they know who makes what game, and what artists made those cool graphics. Because of their dedication, THESE are the folks that can play the hardest games as though they were easy.

    Sure playing tough games that easily inspires envy, but only in those who weren't willing to put in the same amount of work.

    Those that have a clue on how much work it takes to acquire those skills offer something much finer -- respect.

  3. Yes, I'm still around. LOL Just been on a little hiatus.

    I checked your title and of course immediately thought it was something else!

    I love your take on this. as the old cliche says, there are no new plots under the sun, just twists on old ones. Even Shakespeare borrowed from the Greek geniuses.

    Who can argue with that?

    I've never thought of that approach exactly. But, it's a darned good idea and it might just make the plot line more concise from the get go.

    Take care. Happy writing. Let me know when your next workshop will be.


  4. Oh I like this it's smart and so true.

  5. So I'm behind on blog posts...

    Anyway, this is what you taught and this is what I've been doing :) Thank you!