How did you keep your story so original without feeling diluted by other Beauty and the Beast tales? I have an idea that I would like to pursue but I feel like it keeps getting mixed in with other media I've enjoyed. See Disney's live-action BatB last year, and it mixes. Finish watching Ancient Magus Bride, and it mixes. Even read your comic, and it feels like it mixes. I want my own story and I'm so afraid of stealing from others but how to avoid with a popular trope that is everywhere?
I hope you’ll forgive me, Anon, because I’m going to ramble a lot here!
I think the sheer level of research I did helped a lot. I read and watched every variation I could get my hands on, from schlocky paperbacks to modern YA to post-war art cinema, to soviet puppet plays, to the original 1740 novel. The more material you give your brain to work with, the more unique your storytelling will become, because you have an understanding of the genre, or the craft, or the topic, and you’ve seen how others execute it, for better or for worse. furthermore, don’t JUST look at BATB stories (or sci-fi stories, or superhero comics, or sports anime or WHATEVER). Read, experience and watch widely. You’d be surprised where you find inspiration (And if you go obscure enough, no one will know where you swiped it from, hohoho). Sometimes those outside influences and experiences are what make your story shine with a lustre the others don’t.
Experience is as much a part of writing as research. That old chestnut about write-what-you-know is true. Sure, I don’t know what it’s like to be kept captive in a haunted castle that preys on human weakness… but I sure know what it’s like to be lonely, and to feel trapped. If you can use your honest emotions, your story will ring true. Combining that emotional honesty with your research makes for a powerful story. A big thematic influence on my version of the story was Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which I read while spending a summer semester in Italy. The grandeur of museums and churches, combined with long afternoons I spent in palace gardens alone and the curious, lesser-told stories of Greek myth really got me into the mindset of the story and helped solidify the feeling of the little thing I had been working on. Exploring places that evoke the feelings you want is a great way to inhabit a character’s headspace…And you don’t need international travel to do it, I was just lucky! I started writing this version of BATB sitting in an empty apartment during a thunderstorm. There was no furniture yet and I was sitting on the floor watching black clouds and lightning through floor-to-ceiling windows. That’s where the library scene came from. Right now I’m working on a detective story, and wandering through my very economically depressed neighbourhood and poking around the grungy, shuttered storefronts is a great scene-setter.
But what do you do once you have the research, right? Well, I never really stop researching as I go. My process is much more like sculpting than anything else. I amass a great heap of reference and related material, and anything that has the right “flavour” to it, and I glop it all into the loose shape of what I think I want to do, and then I start hacking parts off. At first it’s a big chop-job. I’m in there with hedge clippers taking off whole characters and plot twists. Then it’s a bit more refined, knocking out unneeded scenes and subplots. As this goes along, I often move scenes here and there, finding places they better fit into until the flow feels natural. By then, I’m not chopping away big hunks of story anymore, I’m just carefully finessing the parts I’ve decided to keep. There’s more in the trash bin than on the page by the end.
So I would suggest you embrace that first stage – take everything you love and throw it onto the page, even in its most stolen, embarrassing form. Right now you know what you want it to feel like, but maybe not what your version of it will look like (spoilers: It never turns out the way you think it will, but your readers won’t know that). So lean into that trope! Use that stolen scene as a bookmark! “I want this moment in the story to really feel like when Christine follows the Phantom through the mirror!” or “It should be as heartpounding and fragile as the conversation after the waltz in the Disney broadway show!”. That’s enough to let your brain cook away at it while you work on other things. You’ll be coming back through to change and fix things as the story evolves, anyway. You’re just starting to feel your way through the story and to discover what it is you have to say about it. It’s a bit of a personal journey, I think. You uncover just as much about yourself as you do about the tale you want to tell. All a first draft has to do to be successful is exist. <3
And remember…all of us here love this story, and I’m sure we would love your story. Share it with us when you’re ready!