Finding the Story with the Mash-up Method

In the story formula post, we boiled down the elements of a story to four things: Character + Wants +Obstacles + Determination=Story. Dropping your novel’s elements into this formula may tell you that you’ve hit upon a sure-fire hit, or it could let you know that your story is lukewarm. But what if you’re just not a formula person?
Writing Tip for Today: Another way to summarize your story is to use the mash-up method. In Hollywood screenwriters often use this method to pitch projects. These days, novel writers have adopted the mash-up method too.
Mash-up Method is simply a joining of two different story lines or plots, usually with the word “meets” in the middle. If your story is Cinderella meets The Three Little Pigs (I know, how weird!), chances are you get an instant idea of what the story is like. Here are some tips:

  • Use known works. It won’t make sense if the agent or editor has never heard of the books or movies you’re comparing.
  • Go for the tone. Use at least one example that reflects the tone you want to impart. If it’s a comedy, don’t cite a mash-up of two serious books/films. If it’s a drama, don’t use broad comedies to describe.
  • It’s okay to admit you are borrowing story elements. Most people agree that there are only a few basic story lines or plots, and everything else is a variation.

Try This! Using your novel-in-progress, find two movies or books that best represent a mash-up of your story. You can use one to describe the time/setting and the other to describe the genre, such as “Star Wars,” which is often described as a “western set in space.”

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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