In 2005, I had completed a high-concept commercial romantic comedy spec script, which got rave reviews, until Will Smith and Kevin James hit the big screen in the successful rom-com Hitch.
My script, unfortunately, was not too dissimilar. I was devastated. Countless drafts and the better part of a year, I thought, down the tubes. But my manager made a suggestion: keep the story but change the world, a world that no one had seen before, something really different. Something special. Something memorable.
So my corporate metropolis became a Podunk Renaissance Faire. Sure, there were a ton of changes, but I solved my Hitch problem, and the script just kept getting better. My manager was right: same story, new world.
Lots of stories are similar – at least in terms of plot structure. Boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, girl rejects boy, boy tries to win girl's heart, and either wins his prize in the end or realizes his true love has been at his side (a nerdy but much more beautiful girl) the entire time. Sure, we've seen this plot a million times before, so why write it again? Don't! – unless the world of your story is something new. Be specific. Be exact. Make us experience something truly unique. Force us to remember your small new world.
Remember: same story, new character details, but often, it's the world that makes the movie. Don't believe me? – Ask James Cameron. Avatar is nothing more than Dances with Wolves in space.