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How to make your story truly your own

Categories: MFA Confidential Blog.

The Thirty-Six
Dramatic Situations
is a list George
Polti created to catalog every dramatic situation that might occur in a story or
performance. Every last situation. Essentially meaning: no other situation exists
outside these thirty-six. Haven’t you heard this from writing teachers, too? That
there are only so many plots, so many stories that can be told? A writing
friend of mine recently reminded me that Dostoevsky once said there were, in
fact, only two stories in the whole
world: 1. Man goes on a journey and 2. Stranger comes to town. And so if there
are limited stories to tell (or only two to tell) how can we strive as writers to
still be original?

o·rig·i·nal·i·ty is
defined as the
ability
to think or express oneself in an independent and individual manner. It is
creative ability. Freshness or novelty, as of an idea, method, or performance.

You hear it all the time— originality is what makes one
story stand out from the rest. My professor recently said to me, “What I like
about this story is your new take on an old topic. It’s fresh.” Fresh. It’s another
word you hear a lot. Agents love it. Publishers love it. Readers love it.
Familiarity with a topic or situation can be appreciated as long as one is
surprised by the fresh way the story is told. And so yes, that is our job: How we tell the story.

Dorothea Brande, author of Becoming a Writer said this about originality:

“…it
is not the putting your character in the central position of a drama which has
never been dreamed of before that will make your story irresistible. Even if it
were possible to find such a situation it would be an almost heartbreaking feat
to communicate it to your readers, who must find some recognizable quality in
the story they read or be hopelessly at sea. How your hero meet his dilemma, what you think of the impasse—those are
the things which make your story truly your own; and it is your own individual character,
unmistakably showing through your work, which will lead you to success or
failure.”

Check out the Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations here.

What do you think? At the very least, it is a list of
beginnings. A list one can pick from to inspire the shell of a story. Where originality
comes into play is with the filling of the shell. An original story is made up of unique
characters, a bold voice, a fresh, distinctive tone.  And yet, while striving for something new is
always important, it’s even more vital to stay true to your aesthetic. You must
stay true to you. We all see the
world in vastly different ways. We talk differently, think differently, act
differently. And it is these differences that get us noticed. It is these
differences that make our work singular. Original. And that’s the stuff of magic.

“Originality
is not seen in single words or even sentences. Originality is the sum total of
a man’s thinking or his writing.”      

-Isaac
Bashevis Singer

 

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3 Responses to How to make your story truly your own

  1. shakabry says:

    It’s seems like a pretty comprehensive list. I didn’t study it but maybe we should. Like you said, for at least some possible story ideas. Like, if you have a solid character but nowhere to put him/her, have him/her obtain something through an enmity of kin (#12 & 13). And they are short enough definitions to really make ANYTHING out of them. I expect that the book is a little more detailed than the wiki. Would hope so, at least!

    All in all, it’s very intriguing. Are all our stories really pigeonholed into 36 niches? I’m sure there are more I just don’t know what they are offhand. Like, "Baby Panda goes to the moon" wasn’t on there. Then again, Journey was. The Greeks win again!

  2. Well said! My book Story Structure Architect (WD) revamps these situations and show their opposing manifestations. There’s always room for more ideas and for new ways of looking at things :)

  3. Kristan says:

    I agree, to an extent, that there are only so many stories. But because of how society changes (especially in this day and age, with technology), those stories can really take on different shapes and colors. Like you said, it’s about making old stories original; using our voice, putting our stamp/twist on it, etc.

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