How to Revitalize An Overused Plot Line

Sam Raimi
Even the greats recycle, but should you?(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the things I often lament is the tired plot line or the plot line that is completely overused.  There are many of them, but recently there have been two blockbuster films and one best selling book that are, in essence, the same plot as other well known films or books.

Three cases prove my point:

Oz the Great and Powerful was simply Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness repackaged in a different medium.  Also, Iron Man 3 has exactly the same plot as The Incredibles.  I have also noted that The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is a western retelling of the plot of the Japanese classic Battle Royale by Batoru Rowaiaru nearly point for point.

So how do we prevent ourselves from retelling the same story over and over again?  For one thing, it is tough.  There have been many stories written since people started drawing on cave walls.  It’s hard not to copy or accidentally copy the stories that have already been written.

One good thing to do is to follow this wonderful checklist and then modify it to fit whatever genre you are writing.

Another thing you can do is to find a list of overused plot lines like this one (all I did was Google “list of overused plots”) and think outside the box.  Write the overused plot, but change something about it to make it your own.  Find one part of the story that is usually predicable because of overuse and do the opposite or do something unpredictable.

I am currently drafting a short story about a miner on Mars who is there because that is where Earth sends its criminals, and he does discover the ruins of an ancient civilization (overused plot device) but it is not what the reader expects and hopefully is a surprise.  The ending is quite terrifying and hopefully will make us rethink the impossibility of the universe.

So I say go for it.  Ferret out the tropes and plot lines that have been overused and make them new.  Change something for the better.  Get to crafting.  That story won’t write itself!

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

2 thoughts on “How to Revitalize An Overused Plot Line

  1. Man, that’s a tough art to master–the art of originality. There was a time when I would come up with this fantastically new and unique idea–then I’d see it in the top two on one of those “ten most inexcusable plot clichés” and I’d drop the idea. Needless to say, that process didn’t help with my writer’s block. Eventually I figured out I was never going to get anywhere that way and that originality is not necessarily in the story that’s told, but how it’s told. I’m still trying to figure out how to put that theory in practice though. 🙂

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