How to Come Up With an Original Story Idea

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When I was a novice writer, this is what I struggled with most: the idea that I had to come up with an original idea before I could write a good story, whether on Medium or anywhere.

I’m going to go ahead and say something a little controversial: I don’t think having an original idea matters. I think it’s way more important to come up with a unique idea. At first blush, these two words look mightily similar, but they’re different in one key aspect.

Originality, to me, means being the first of something. People originate Broadway roles, they have an original idea, they start an original business. The original of something is the very first iteration of it.

Uniqueness? It’s a whole different kettle of fish. To me, uniqueness is about being the only one of a kind. Unlike anything else. Interesting and different, even if not necessarily new.

And honestly, I think originality in stories is over-rated, so you shouldn’t let that stop you. For example, if you google ‘how to come up with an original idea,’ you’ll get a ton of results. This idea isn’t original. But it’s unique, because nobody can answer this question or tell this story through my perspective, which is valuable.

You shouldn’t feel bad for letting it stop you writing. Honestly, I let it stop me for a long time. It seemed like every time I had a decent idea on what to write, and I went on Medium to start writing the story, coincidentally Kris Gage or Jessica Valenti had not only beat me to it, but had their story promoted on the homepage, written with far more grace and poise than I ever could. It’s disheartening.

But wild though it may seem, these authors don’t have what I do: my personal, lived experience which I can filter my stories through. I have something utterly unique, which is just my life.

Here’s how you write an original story.

Forget about originality first and foremost. Come to grips with the fact that your story idea has been done already, probably better than you could have. Focus instead on what you can do differently, how you can put this broad, universal, already-been-done idea through your experiences.

For instance, there must be thousands of stories writing about how to write good characters. However, I wrote one in which I talked about how my experiences with DnD improved my ability to create characters in my fiction novel. It was fun, wacky, and entertaining to write. People loved it.

Now, stories about character development? Done to death. Stories about DnD? Also done to death. Stories about my exact experience using DnD to improve my writing?

One of a kind. The topic is broad, so it appeals to a lot of people. The story is unique, individual, so people will enjoy it. The outcome is universally applicable, so all will find it useful.

That’s the best way to write a story.

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