Plotting Fiction: has it all been done before? 5 ways to keep fiction fresh.

This infographic about Man Booker 2011 prize plots got me thinking. There are only x number of plots in fiction. Some have argued 7, some have argued 36, some have argued over 100.

So how do you continue to keep it fresh?

  1. High concept: big plot ideas (THE LEFTOVERS, THE AGE OF MIRACLES) with traditional human experiences (coming of age, falling in love, family breakdown)
  2. Trends: you don’t want to be following them, but you can see what’s working and think about how to bring a new angle to it. And you can also see what isn’t working right now (i.e. publishers aren’t really buying westerns)
  3. Genre blending: i.e. women’s fiction meets mystery
  4. Contemporary inspiration: the ‘modern family’, globalization…
  5. Escapism: 50 Shades of Grey. Need I say more?

You have to complete for today’s readers’ attention with YouTube, Twitter, and films–how are you going to capture their attention with your writing?

Q: Does the idea that it’s all been done stop you from writing or inspire you to think big? 

Image via 1001 Books to Read Before You Die

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

10 thoughts on “Plotting Fiction: has it all been done before? 5 ways to keep fiction fresh.

  1. This is an extremely useful post; I’m sure many authors are reassured after reading it.
    As for me, the idea that it has all been done before doesn’t scare me. It spurs me on and makes me want to put unique twists on ideas and create compelling characters that will draw readers into the story.


  2. To answer you question, neither. I simply tell the story I want to tell. Nobody has told a story the exact same way, in the exact same voice as anyone else. If we spend all day worrying about thinking bigger or if something has been done before, what have we accomplished? A lot of worrying and little writing. Write your story, your way. Let the audience, or critics, decide the rest. A writer should be confident in their ability to craft an engaging story from the first word. My opinion anyway.


  3. I think the idea that it’s been done before inspires me to find and use my voice. No two people can tell the same story, so I think it’s very important to tell it your way. Also, I love the blending genres idea. I think it adds so much complexity to a story and really pushes an author to think conceptually.


    1. There’s that word ‘voice’ again! I think that’s the key. You’ll be unique because there has never been another you before. But you have to push the envelope sometimes in other areas of plot, characters and genre.


  4. To quote a lyric from my favorite Toronto-based band’s most recent release, “In a world where I feel so small, I can’t stop thinking big!”


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