Four Ways to Use Your Favorite Franchises for Inspiration
(Guest post from Lewis Jorstad, www.thenovelsmithy.com)
It’s common knowledge that writer’s need to read (or watch movies) to hone their craft. After all, we can learn so much by absorbing other’s stories, drawing inspiration and encouragement from the magical worlds other storyteller’s create.
However, many writers face a dilemma precisely because of this inspiration: how can they take ideas from their favorite franchises, while still creating their own unique story? Is that even possible?
Fortunately, the answer is a resounding yes!
Not only have hundreds of excellent, unique novels been written thanks to inspiration from existing stories, but whole careers have been launched on the backs of popular franchises. It is possible to create unique fiction using existing stories; and not only is it possible, but it might be the best way to jumpstart your inspiration!
Why You Should Use Your Favorite Stories for Inspiration
Staying inspired is by far one of the hardest things for beginning writers and expert authors alike, with staying motivated being a close second.
We’ve all heard horror stories (or experienced them ourselves) of writers staring at a blank page for months or even years, struggling to finish a half-completed story and at a loss for what to write next. Sure enough, after a long enough bout of writer’s block, they eventually give up. They just can’t stay motivated without inspiration to guide them.
While there are many ways to fight writer’s block, nearly all of them have to do with feeding your inspiration. So how is it that the same writers who struggle to finish an original novel can pump out chapter after chapter of fanfiction or spend hours creating head cannons for their favorite franchise?
Well, it’s because they adore those stories.
Not only are they passionate and excited about them, but they have an existing foundation to work from. They can create their own original stories using these building blocks, never worrying about a lack of ideas. Essentially, these existing franchises jumpstart their imagination while giving them the motivation to write.
Thanks to these beloved stories, you can avoid both of the biggest problems plaguing writers!
This, more than anything else, is why you shouldn’t shy away from taking ideas from your favorite franchises. When done with respect and care, this is an excellent way to create your own original novels, while always having a well of ideas to draw from when writer’s block sets in—however, the key words there are “respect” and “care.”
If you’re going to use existing franchises to write your own, unique story, you’ll need to keep a few things in mind as you go.
Four Methods for Writing Your Own Unique Story
When using existing franchises for inspiration, you need to be careful to distinguish your story from its source material. Copyright law should be enough motivation here, but even if you set legal trouble aside, you don’t want to disrespect the original creators you admire so much.
Writing your own original story is a way of respecting those creators, while still acknowledging the important role their franchises played in inspiring your own.
Know What’s Actually Original
When creating any story, it can be hard to remember where you got which ideas.
Was it from that photo you saw while scrolling through Pinterest a few weeks ago, or did it come from a movie you watched when you were twelve? Perhaps it was something that arose organically from your own creativity, or maybe you ripped it directly from another story.
This is an important exercise even if you’re writing something totally original, but it’s especially important if you’re drawing inspiration from existing franchises. You need to be honest and upfront with yourself when you look at your ideas.
Ask yourself: where did they come from?
By asking this question, you can get a clearer picture of what is uniquely yours and what isn’t. The goal here isn’t to scrub away the ideas that came from someone else, but to balance them out with your own unique twists, details, and events. This way you never risk creating a story that lacks your own personal flair.
Remix Existing Story Beats
If you’re drawing inspiration from the plot or conflict of an existing franchise, you need to make sure you’re remixing those plot points with your own unique ideas.
For instance, Seven Samurai was famously remixed into The Magnificent Seven, taking a band of masterless samurai and turning them into old west gunslingers. While the original DNA of this western is clear, it adds enough unique scenes and character moments to stand on its own.
Whenever you’re using an existing franchise’s plot to inspire your own story, make sure you twist the conventions of that plot and bring new things to the table. Perhaps you add a unique conflict or flesh out the world with new characters and events, but whatever you do, make sure you’re leaving your unique mark on the story’s plot.
Change the Details
Even if your story has an entirely unique premise, you may choose to reuse locations and characters from other franchises.
If this is the case, make sure to change the names and details of these elements, not only to make them your own, but to ensure they fit with the world of your story. After all, it would be strange to name the dwarf in your modern cyber punk fantasy novel Frodo, no matter how much you modeled that character after the beloved hobbit.
Finally, you may find yourself deeply attached to the settings, characters, and plots of your favorite franchises—perhaps you don’t want to change anything, and instead want to create new stories in these existing worlds.
In that case, you should be writing fanfiction.
At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to hold fast to your favorite franchises; it just isn’t the right tactic for published novels. Instead, find a fanfiction community you can share your work with and have fun together! Not only is fanfiction a great creative outlet, but it’s an excellent way to hone your writing skills as you prepare to set out on your own writing adventure.
Existing franchises have spawned not only hundreds of unique novels, but entire subgenres as well. Books like Cinder, Princess of the Silver Wood, Thorn, and Goose Girl are all excellent in their own right, despite being based entirely on other stories (along with the rest of the fairytale retelling subgenre).
What all of this comes down to is that, with a bit of self-awareness and respect for the source material, you can absolutely use the franchises you love to inspire and guide your own work. In fact, not only can you—but maybe you should!
So tell me, what’s your favorite franchise, and how can it inspire your next story? Let me know in the comments!
By Lewis Jorstad
Lewis Jorstad is an author, book coach, and certifiable history nerd who teaches others how to tell compelling, memorable stories over at The Novel Smithy. When he isn’t working on the next book in his Ten Day Novelist series, you can find him playing old Gameboy games or trying to explain the nuances of Feudal Japan. You can also check out his free ebook, The Character Creation Workbook, and grab a copy for yourself.