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Recycling Old Plots

“Go out and steal” these words are hiding in one of the books about writing that line my bookshelves. I wish I could find them again as I would like to give the author some credit here.
Just last week I had one of those wondrous moments, where suddenly something becomes clear. And it is all to do with those words. We were watching the film, “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” in our local cinema and at one point I was laughing as much at the cleverness of the writer’s adaptation, as at the joke being played out on screen.
For those unfamiliar with the film, its plot is based on Dickens’s ‘Scrooge’. I will be careful not to give away anything important for anyone who might now wish to go and see it. The central character having spent a lifetime of self-serving indulgence is taken to task for the harm he has caused, by the ghost of his ex-guardian uncle and three other ghostly apparitions. The movie culminates in a feel-good ending that was obvious from the very start, apart from that how it would manifest was unknown.
The story runs the same path as Scrooge, swapping wealth and being miserly for social conquests and being self-centred. Scrooge becomes Conner Mead. Ex-business partner becomes ex-guardian uncle. Harm falling to Tiny Tim becomes harm to his younger brother. The writer has ‘stolen’ Dickens’s plot and then wrought from it an up to date modern fantasy from this tired old classic. All the way through the writer plays homage to the original story, bringing it out in the actors knowledge of what is supposed to occur next, basing jokes on our and the actor’s prior knowledge of the story line. The current adaptation has none of the deep social messages inherent in Scrooge, Connor Mead is too implausible, and this story is setting out only to entertain.
When I first read the words “Go out and steal”, in a section about reusing plots from successful stories I just read the words, probably I just nodded, probably thinking “oh yeah, I can see that” and then promptly forgot them.
That was until last week.
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past displayed to me, that you can take an old, tired, clichéd plot and you can build upon its solid story telling core. That with enough imagination and love for the original story, a brilliant new story can be created. One that could stand on its own despite the ‘borrowed’ origins of its plot.
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2 comments to Recycling Old Plots

  • Vicky

    So true. I feel as though there are very few “new” ideas left out there to write. But that doesn’t mean you can’t write your own version and the “writing” can be fresh and original with your own take on a classic story.

  • Andy Shackcloth

    Yes, somehow this film managed to be “Fresh and Original” even though we all knew exactly where the story was going. If it can be done with Scrooge then what can we all do with (place favourite story here)?

    Tip: If you go and watch it, take some tissues.