I get a lot of questions from writers who think their story is too close to its inspiration or too similar to another story. I can’t give you direct answers because it’s your story. I can’t write it for you. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t help you find a way to make it different.
Step One: Similarities
Is your story too similar to another story? Or is to too similar to the inspiration? Make a list of all the similarities between them. This includes, plot points, dialogue, characters, back stories, fight scenes, world building, settings, sub plots, and character interactions.
- Characters: Make sure names, appearances, back stories, personalities, and roles of characters differ. I can’t give you a number of “how much is too much” in terms of similar characters because it depends on cast size. You can have characters who share some similarities, but try to make those similarities a little bit different too.
- Character Roles: If you can match up all of your character roles or archetypes with the characters in the other story, you should change things around a bit. You don’t want too many parallels.
- Back Stories: These can be unique to characters more than appearances or names. Make sure these are different. If your characters have the same or similar back stories as characters in another story, it’ll be difficult to make these characters original.
- Major Plot Points: Stay away from the major plot points and major parts of the story you’re trying to distance yourself from. Did the other story have its opening scene in a school? Put your opening scene elsewhere.
- Specifics: This is mostly in relation to world building. Make a list of everything that is specific to the inspiration source or the other story (for example, the word muggle and its usage from Harry Potter is specific to that universe). You cannot use any of these things. Stay away from them.
Step Two: What Can’t Happen?
Make a list of things that are specific to the inspiration or to the story that yours is similar to. An example is a boy wizard with an odd scar. That’s obviously Harry Potter. That’s something that you can’t do unless you separate it from Harry Potter so much that no one thinks of Harry Potter when they learn about your character. This is an example of what you cannot do.
Continue making a list of everything that you cannot do or don’t want to do in your story. Do you want to write a dystopian that is original? I can tell you right now to get rid of any sort of system in which people are separated and assigned a career or are associated with one particular thing because of that. This has been used in the dystopian novel since before any of us were born. Getting rid of that will lead you away from most dystopian novels right from the beginning.
If you find that one of your plot points is too similar to that of another story, take note of what happened in that other story. Your story can’t do that. Do something else. However, you should do more than just change the outcomes of the plot points. The whole story should go in a different direction due to this change.
Step Three: What Never Happened?
If you find something that never happened in the inspiration source or the original story and if it works with your story, put it in. Make it as different as you can. Adding the new and taking away the used can help you do this. If you’re writing something similar to Percy Jackson, don’t use the same myths. Use different myths. Take away some of the used myths. If you’re writing something similar to Harry Potter, use different magic systems and different magical creatures.
Step Four: There Are Still Similarities!
Yeah. There’s going to be a lot of similarities to lots of other stories too. You’re going to have tropes in common with most of the stories within your genre. Pure originality is impossible. Some stories have the exact same premise (The Hunger Games and Battle Royale), but have different settings, characters, plots, outcomes, and are different overall.
Step Five: It Takes a While
This is not going to happen overnight. You need to put effort into your story and it’s going to take a long time if you want to get it right. Don’t give up after a week.
Over time, your story will evolve on its own. Writers rarely end up with what they first imagined their story to be. It will naturally go off on its own road. Follow it and stick with it.
Step Six: The Test
Find a beta reader who has read/seen the inspiration source or who has read/seen the story that is similar to yours. Don’t tell them that you’re trying to distance them. Don’t mention the inspiration source or the other story at all. Have them read it. If they say nothing about it being similar to those other stories, you should be okay. However, you should still ask and see what they say.