Variations on a Theme

We know a worn-out story when we see one: tropes become narrative traps and archetypes become stereotypes. But is the story itself worn out or just the way we're used to reading it?

It's probably not the story...


No matter how rugged, magical, surreal or futuristic a setting happens to be, what happens in that setting is likely to have happened before in a way that can resonate with your audience. All you need to do is switch up one element that refreshes the context and brings the story home.


Over the last score of years, writers have been leaning on making the traditional bad guy the good guy – and often to great effect. Was the previous villain wrongly demonized? What if Beowolf was the jerk and Grendel was the good guy? What if the Wicked Witch (or Maleficent) had her reasons? In fact, we did it so much that we already had a rebound to this gimmick, where we had to specify the bad guy "just wanted to watch the world burn."

Another switch-up has been a simple gender-swap. Take the traditional guy role and make the main character a girl. This has led to some great characters. Take the pulpy action heroes that give rise to Indiana Jones and swap them around? You get Lara Croft. I'd pay money to see those two competing. Even better, I'd like to see them on the same team… but how do you build a bad guy worthy of the two of them?

Today, we're going to challenge you to take a traditionally-known scene, change something in it, and retell it. We'll give you a few options to get the juices flowing… then write for 20 minutes. Please feel free to share it by pasting in the comments!


Scene base:

  • Red Riding Hood meets the kindly wolf at the edge of the wood.

  • The Big Bad Wolf arrives outside the brick home with 3 little pigs.

  • The tortoise is coming up to the starting line with the hare.

  • A guy thinks he's alone in the house, but keeps hearing this odd heartbeat.

Change something about the:

  • Protagonist

  • Antagonist

  • General setting (fantasy becomes contemporary)

  • Specific setting (library becomes kitchen)

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