Most popular stories are about something different. Whether it is a 25 ft shark off the New England coast (JAWS). Or a woman trying to survive the Civil War (Gone with the wind). It is always a different world, or an alien experiencing our world (ET phone home). A young woman must survive the televised Circus Maximus (Hunger Games) or a young boy migrate into the wizarding world (Harry Potter). It isn’t just about what happens to them, but about this strange world that is different to us. It becomes another character in the story and a plot driver.
The popular stories make us look at things differently, compare and contrast. What would we do if thrown into this new and unusual world. I am not saying that you have to have a different world. I am saying that the most popular stories always do. Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz is so much more interesting that Dorothy and the Wizard of Kansas.
The Highest grossing movies of all time, (adjusted for inflation)
1. Gone With the Wind
3. Star Wars
5. The Sound of Music
6. E.T. the Extra Terrestrial
7. Ten Commandments
8. Doctor Zhivago
10. Snow White and the seven dwarfs
The only one that could be considered set in normal times and a normal world is E.T. and that deals with an Alien from outer space. Each of these stories explores a strange environment. A foreign country, a different time and how the protagonists deal with it.
Something to think about when outlining your next book.