This is part 7 of a series. Part 1 starts here.

Let’s summarize what we’ve learned so far:

  1. Writers write. If you’re gonna call yourself a writer, you darn well better be writing. Or admit you don’t like it and do something else.
  2. There are no new ideas. Not basic ones, anyway.
  3. Stories come from inside you. If you look long enough, you’ll find them.
  4. A story tells an event or series of events, and has a beginning, middle, and ending. Big or small, all stories have a similar structure.
  5. People make stories happen. Without people, there’s no story.

Today, we’re going to talk about #2 in more detail. We know that there must be new ideas, because they come out in every new book or movie. How are these ideas different?

Last week, we saw that Spider-man and True Lies and the TV show Alias all had the basic idea of a person living a double life. What made each new and different was more than just the basic idea. It was what a lot of people call the “twist“.

Peter Parker is an ordinary high school student, who’s bitten by a mutant radioactive spider and becomes a one-man vigilante with special powers.

Harry Tasker is a secret agent who everyone else (including his wife and daughter) thinks is a computer salesman!

Sydney Bristow is a grad student with a job at a bank, but not only is she also a CIA agent, but she’s a double agent inside a terrorist group.

Basically, the twist is what makes your story different from all the hundreds of other “double life” stories out there. Here’s where the fun begins. Because to make your story different, you get to play a game. It’s called, “What If?

Let’s stay with the basic idea of “living a double life”. What if:

  • the person living a double life was a child? A werewolf? A cross-dresser? An alien from another planet? 97 years old?
  • the reason for the double life was because they were a criminal? A bigamist? A celebrity desperate for privacy? Seriously mistaken for the Pope?
  • the danger in the double life was that they were afraid of being laughed at for who they were? Wanted in another country for some crime? In danger of being killed?

As you can see, there’s a lot of stories still to be told, even with such an ordinary basic idea.

Even if you didn’t want to use this for your story’s main idea, you could still use this basic idea in other ways. For example, a story about a group on a quest could be intensified by knowing (from the viewpoint of the one with the double life) that one of the group had a secret identity, or by the group not knowing and discovering the secret later on.

This idea of a story inside a story is called a sub-plot, and we’ll talk about this another time.

Think about your three-scene story, and the basic idea you used. Play “What If?” with it (this is fun to do with some friends or your kids). What unique twists can you find for your story? Write a new story with the same basic idea as your first one, but with a twist incorporated in it. Post a summary of it here if you like.

We’ll talk more about writing tomorrow.