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I write stories, not movies, but often movies will inspire my writting. I came across a website that discussed the Big Lebowski and how it's a kind of play on movies like the Big Sleep, even the title is a play on that, but it's also full of Alice in Wonderland references, which aren't obvious, but are clearly there.

As I write, my story develops and my story has quite clearly picked up two famous stories (I'd prefer to not say which ones), kind of merged together. My question is whether this is a fairly common writing style. I can't imagine it's a new idea, and some stories or movies might make reference to several things.

For example: Frankenstein meets Wuthering Heights. There's no reason a story couldn't be written drawing themes from those two famous books. Maybe not easily as both are complete in and of themselves, but maybe a trilogy, and that's just an example, or a simpler one, Jane Austin meets Zombies, but that's more of a story meeting a theme, not two stories being brought together.

I know that reflecting from a single story into a new story is fairly common. My question is, how often is it done that a writer will reflect from two unrelated but well-known stories and make a new story, like I suspect the Big Lebowski did.

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Not only is it common, but it's actually a useful thing to have your work be the mixture of two familiar things, because assuming that you want to sell your story eventually, that becomes a really good way to pitch your story: "It's Jane Austin with zombies," or "it's The Hunger Games in space" (Red Rising), etc. These make good pitches because they use instantly recognizable things, it's easy to understand, and if it's a good combination, then it will immediately spark ideas for the listener (ooh, I'd like to see how that would play out...).

Part of your question was about specifically combining two stories together, rather than a story with a theme or something like that. Part of the difficulty of answering that question is that it's pretty subjective to decide when to classify something as truly "being" a story vs just borrowing from it.

Example: you could describe The Matrix as Brave New World meets Alice in Wonderland. Ok. To what degree is The Matrix really specific to Brave New World as opposed to just the genre of dystopias in general? Well, the protagonist is intelligent and on a question to get outside the controlled world to a ragtag group of people who are living a more real lifestyle (The “Savage Reservation” in Bernard Marx’s case. For Neo, it’s the world of the Nebuchadnezzar). Also, Brave New World is a make-everyone-happy kind of place, as opposed to, say, 1984. So I could see an argument being made that The Matrix is more similar to Brave New World than to some other dystopias. But overall, if you put a gun to my head, I would say it’s more accurate to just say that The Matrix is a dystopia rather than that it's Brave New World specifically.

And what about Alice in Wonderland? The Matrix has a lot of overt references to Alice In Wonderland, and the plot starts off with the skeleton of it being similar: Mr. Anderson goes down a rabbit-hole (a portal that leads to a completely different-looking world that exists right alongside what he had previously thought of as the "real" world). But, most of the main events of Alice in Wonderland don't feature at all in the Matrix. Thematically they're both kind of trippy and all about redefining reality, waking up is a theme, etc, and there are lots of overt references...where do you draw the line?

So with that said, I would reframe your question a little. If you ask how often that a story is blatantly and unarguably two different stories combined, that's going to get messy really fast. But do stories reuse other stories and themes that have been explored before by other stories: YES, and in fact when you frame it that way, I think that 99% of stories probably fall under this umbrella.

If you have a story idea that combines to separate stories into one idea, that's not a bad thing. If anything it's a good sign because that is a tried-and-true way to make good new stories. It's actually when people try to be overly "original" (at the expense of everything else) that you get unreadable things. So yes, I think you're on a good path.

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  • Thank you for that. The Matrix is a great example. I hadn't thought of that, but I feel silly that I hadn't. It's very brave new world and very alice in wonderland, including the white rabbit. Very cool.
    – userLTK
    yesterday
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All the time. Writers rarely create in a vacuum and occasionally, works are created take heavy inspiration from other works OR combine elements of other works and turn it into something new. Some are done more cleverly than others, and others are done as parody and thus are satirizing beloved works. And others do it because the story is good, but the intended audience might not understand culturally and thus take the story beats and make them fit the culture.

In the case of the later, the Japanese film-genre known as jidaigeki (lit. Period Drama) was quite popular with Western film makers in the 1970s, but they couldn't market the film to the American Public... foreign films in general did not do well in the United States, and the reliance on heavy samurai cultural understanding that the west simply did not have much exposure to would make the films hard to market. But then the west noticed something... a lot of jidaigeki films had character archetypes that overlapped with a very popular period genre... The Western. Take away a Samurai's sword, give him a gun, and boom! Now you got a Cowboy. And the most beloved jidaigeki director of the time had no less than three films that got translated to "Cowboy Films". "The 7 Samurai" become "The Magnificent Seven" by translating the titular hero's archetypes to Western characters and assemble the team to save the town. It helped that feudal Japanese Lords were very much driven by the same greed as Robber-Barons. "Yojimbo" and it's sequel "Sanjuro" got translated into the three films in the "Dollars Trilogy" with the lead character in the East getting a near direct character name translation in the west (The Ronin with no Name/ The Man with no Name... the translation was so one to one, that Kurosawa sued for copyright infringement).

In addition to this, Kurosawa had one more film given an Americanization, though this one was probably the loosest. His film "The Hidden Fortress" became the inspiration for this little film that we in the west know as "Star Wars: A New Hope." While there was a massive overhaul, the critical elements of "Fortress" (a Samurai epic told from the point of view of the comic relief characters) was loosely retained in the form of the focus on R2 and C-3P0 in the first act, and the disastrously bad jail break of Leia by Luke and Han in the second act (The "Hero" of Fortress was the inspiration for Obi-Wan's character, not Luke's). Lucas took the basic premise and made it something of it's own.

Except... perhaps he didn't. Lucus name dropped Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces as another inspiration for Star Wars. Hero isn't a story itself but a discussion of a mnematic story about the archtypical hero and his/her journey that can be found through mythologies through-out the world. From Luke Skywalker, to King Aurthor, to Hercules, Gilgamesh, Sun Wukong, even Jesus Christ and Moses, the story beats of "The Hero's Journey" can be found in cultures the world over that are both geographically and culturally isolated from each other. According to Campbell, the only thing Lucas did to add to the hero's journey that was unique was the addition of Han Solo... who represents the relatively recent character archetype of the Cowboy and Anti-hero.

Other works are inspired by works with intent to mock them. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was mocking high school horror genres, with the titular character being the brainless blonde cheerleader, gossip, and fashionista that typically was the first to die in a horror film. The opening scene of episode one is a masterpiece of showing what the show was all about... the set up was straight from the "have sex get caught by the monster" trope widely mocked in the genre... but by the scene's end you should know this show will zig where you think it will zag. Other shows like "The Orville" and the film "Galaxy Quest" are parodies of beloved works (Both are obviously Star Trek) but they draw their humor out of respect for what Star Trek is, not out of disrespect. "The Orville" notably aired close to the start of Star Trek Discovery and had a large number of Trek fans declare "The Orville" better Star Trek than Actual Star Trek. "Galaxy Quest" was more a loving send up to Trekies and their obsessions with the series, but points out that despite the behind the scenes drama, the people who worked on the show deserve the praise given to them by the fans for making something that was so beloved by them and most aren't trying to give the fandom a bad name.

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Two things are important to keep in mind. First, don't be ashamed of your 'Fifty Shades of Gray' meets 'Close Encounters of the Third kind' fiction. Let your freak flag fly

Second, it wouldn't be properly called a writing style as it would be called a method of creating a new story. And, it is a very common approach. And, not just for mockbusters like 'Battle between the Stars' is to Star Wars.

It can be used by novice writers to develop a clear story that has a solid start, middle and an end. Kind of practice story. When they do this it is very evident -- I've lost count of how many 'Witcher' inspired novels I've encountered in critique groups. There is nothing wrong with this approach when learning to write, since it is actually a very difficult thing, of the majority of people, to write engaging proses that present an engrossing novel.

It's a very good application of the idiom that you have to start somewhere.

Experienced novelists will also use the same method. But, they use it in a more sophisticated way. They might combine Snow White with Dracula and realize that our heroine -- Snow White -- is really a vampire with her pale skin and blood red lips. They might examine the ideas and arcs of a common story, like the 3 little pigs, and examine its morals and implications in a mirror. What happens when the little pigs grow up -- after being tormented by that big bad wolf. Piggies grow up to be boars with fierce tusks. And, wolves grow old and lose their teeth. This suggests some kind of revenge plot.

By examining stories you've heard before and contrasting them with other stories, there are interesting and synergistic patterns that stimulate our imagination. Since storytelling is a much about understanding the art form as it is imagination, anything you can fine to amp up your imagination -- besides illegal and destructive pharmaceuticals (the lawyers made me put that in) -- the better.

So, again, let your freak flag fly.

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