Taking a Leaf out of Somebody Else’s Book

If you are really feeling the itch to write a science fiction story but find that your well of original ideas has run completely dry there is one rather sneaky trick you can always try. It’s a trick that all writers, working in all genres will find themselves using at least once in their careers but it’s perhaps most useful to writers of science fiction. The trick is to take a plot from any story, book or film and place it into a science fiction setting of your own design.

The great thing about science fiction is that it so easily folds stories from other genres into its ranks. There are science fiction comedies, science fiction thrillers, science fiction horror stories and even the occasional science fiction romance. Isaac Asimov was a great believer in this ‘genre-splicing’ approach and his robot detective stories are probably the most enduring example of its application. Of course, Asimov didn’t steal his plots from other writers (feel free to disagree) but if you’re desperate you can always bend the rules a little.

If you are worried that your ‘spliced’ story will be completely unoriginal, don’t be. The fact is that writers have been doing this for a long time (whether consciously or unconsciously) and if you look closely at your favourite stories the chances are you’ll realize that some of them can be easily broken down into a combination of two or three previous works. As you develop your story and your characters begin to take shape you will probably find yourself moving in a different direction anyway, and what you end up with might be completely indistinguishable from the original.

Understand that we are not suggesting you directly plagiarise another writer’s work, only that you start plagiarizing their work so as to create a basic framework for your own ideas. Once your creative juices begin to flow, they will naturally steer the story into new territory.

Likewise, you shouldn’t be worried about your readers recognising what you’ve done; the chances are they’ll enjoy reading it anyway. So long as your characters are good and you add something to the original they’ll likely see it as an homage to the original – a fresh take on a classic tale.

What to Take

Just take the basic plot, not the characters. Also, try not to take individual scenes if you can avoid it – force yourself to tell the story differently.

In some instances the personality of the characters will be integral to the plot, in this case you’ll be tempted to use the characters too. However, you’ll probably find that you end up writing your own personal interpretation of the characters and that they differ greatly from the original. That’s good; it will give your story something new. Don’t try to force yourself to write somebody else’s characters. Instead, let your characters steer the plot away from the original.

Some Ideas for the Road

So that’s the formula – take a basic plot outline from anywhere and ‘splice’ it into a science fiction setting of your own design. It couldn’t be simpler, but if you’re still struggling here are some examples to get you started.

  • The scifi rom-com – pick any romantic comedy you like (they’re all essentially the same) and insert it into a very simple science fiction universe.
  • The scifi war story – pick any classic war film and bend it to fit your needs. How about ‘A Bridge Too Far’ where the bridges are interconnecting tunnels in a huge space station complex?
  • Roald Dahl’s BFG where the giants are aliens and humans are intruders on their world.
  • Jayne Eyre on an alien planet where humans have established themselves as an aristocracy, subjugating a technologically inferior species.