How can you write unique stories

There are more stories in the world than there are people, so coming up with something never-been-read-before is a big ask. How can you write unique stories when everything has already been said? Keep reading to find out!

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What is “unique” anyway?

Here’s a newsflash: basically all stories are about solving some kind of a problem and/or about people changing over time. When you get to the bare bones, there’s no way to be unique. What if you write a story with zero problems where nothing changes? Well, I’m afraid to say people have done that too, you just may not know any stories like that because nobody likes to read them.

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You can move around the blocks of story structure when you write your story, or squeeze and pull them like they’re clay, but the elements of storytelling are still the same. So if there’s no escaping from the similarities of the inner workings of stories, how about the external stuff?

When you’re thinking about the where, when and who of your story, you have a lot of opportunity to make your story more unique if you want to. You don’t need to write a romance novel about a woman running a coffee shop, she could be running an undertaker’s. The elves in your fantasy novel don’t need to be posh and cultured, they could be the seen as the hillbillies of your story’s world.

That said, there’s no promising that your story will be completely unique. Someone may have already thought of what you’re thinking. But does it matter?

Why do you want to be unique?

Sometimes I see aspiring authors describing their story idea like “I’m gonna write a story in this genre, except instead of following genre conventions, I’m gonna do this completely opposite thing! That’ll show them!”

First of all, you’re more than welcome to write whatever you want, and it’s wonderful bringing a fresh breath of air into any genre. However, if you do it because you feel like the readers and other writers in that genre are just too dumb to know any better, it could mean you’re not following genre conventions and you end up writing… not in that genre.

Also, some writers think that having a “unique” idea immediately makes their story better than other people’s stories. Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way! A skilled writer can make even the tritest premise work well and make the writing interesting and engaging. A writer who thinks a unique idea is enough will probably, at best, write a barely average story.

There’s so much more to a story than a unique idea, and that’s truly exciting.

Think about how marketable your book is

When it comes to getting published traditionally, uniqueness is a double-edged sword. Yes, agents and publishers are always on the lookout for new takes on familiar themes. At the same time, you need to be able to compare your story to other stories to be able to sell it.

If your story is completely unlike any story ever written, where do they place it in the bookstore? Who would a librarian recommend it to? Your story needs to exist somewhere in the ecosystem of other stories. If you genuinely think your story can’t be compared to any story, ever, it might just be that you yourself haven’t been reading that much. (Sorry!)

Why familiarity can be a good thing

When I want to read something light and fun, I often gravitate towards romance novels about women running little stores. I mean, a story that takes place in a small town? About “a fish out of water”? And about someone running a business? Sign me up. (Unfortunately there are some terrible books in this subgenre, I recently read the first book in the Cockleberry Bay series and hated every word.)

Whether we’re talking about our favourite books or about stuff that we read during hard times to get something else to think about, we all have things that we enjoy seeing in our books. That’s what genres, subgenres and tropes are for.

Recently, r/books on Reddit has been my favourite place for finding things to read. A lot of the time, people are asking for book recommendations with specific things in mind. They’ve seen these things before and they’ve liked them. Surely you can see the benefit in that?

Familiar doesn’t mean lazy

That said, I’m not giving you an excuse to be lazy. Don’t write something just because it’s the only thing you know. Whatever you include in your story, make sure it’s there for a reason, though the reason doesn’t necessarily have to be more profound than “I like it”.

There’s a unique angle for everything

The kind of uniqueness you should be shooting for is having a unique angle. You can look at a familiar thing differently, or you can move it just a little to the left. Or to the right. Or any other cardinal direction, you get the picture. You want your readers saying “huh, I never thought of it this way”.

Because you are unique, then your writing is bound to be unique as long as you’re writing from you and not just copying someone else. Where many aspiring authors run into problems is when they’re too scared to be authentic in their writing because fear will drain any chance of being unique and interesting.

Let’s say you want to write fantasy but you don’t want it to be like every other fantasy novel. The presence of magic is pretty much the only thing that is required, but there’s no need to include evil overlords or bearded wizards if you don’t want to. Maybe you want to write about a group of young people who want to make a meaningful change in their magical world, and maybe instead of modelling your world after Medieval Europe, you model if after Australia in the early 1900s.

The dynamics between characters are easy to replicate without thinking. You’re probably familiar with an older recluse becoming a mentor to the young protagonist against his will, but what if you had a younger character mentoring an older one? That’s a new angle. Think of ways you can turn things around, or turn just a little bit. Try to go for what isn’t expected.

Go experience life to get more unique ideas

It’s harder to be unique when all you do is consume other people’s content, whether that’s books, movies or short-form videos. It’s understandable if you’re young and you haven’t had the chance to experience life outside your home and school, which is why it’s a great idea to practise writing when you’re young but wait until you’re a bit older to actually write novels that you plan on sharing with the world.

Go and do things, and think of the things you’ve already done. They don’t need to be great, heroic feats – any experience can be used as material for your story and to make your characters more realistic. How you’ve seen life happen in front of you can be how your characters see life – though preferably not all of your characters. You don’t want everyone you write about be nothing but extensions of you.

Related: 6 surprising ways to become a better writer

Don’t overthink it

Some writers are very worried about including elements in their story that other people have used as well. Maybe it’s a similar plot event or maybe it’s something about their characters.

You simply can’t avoid having similarities to other stories because humans just have too much in common. So many of us struggle with similar things – not getting respected by our family, being afraid, saying the wrong things at the wrong time – so it’s inevitable that we’d end up writing about similar things.

There’s absolutely no way to read every book ever written, so chances are that you’re worried for no reason. Also, the similarities between your book and some other book might not even register to a reader even if they are reading your book and some other book with similar qualities, or they might not think anything of it.

Similarities become a problem only when you assume certain things actually belong together, like having red hair means you need to be a fiery person with a slutty streak (personally I’m a fake redhead so I’m only one of those things) or that a rich character is automatically snobby and ignorant of the real world. These things are clichés and they’re lazy writing.

Write from your heart and write what excites you. That’s more important than trying to be unique and overthinking your writing.


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