Inverting the Formula: What Shrek, Buffy, & Wicked teach us about breaking conventions

by Nicole Trilivas

Now that GIRLS WHO TRAVEL is out on submission with editors (please keep your fingers crossed for me), I’ve been thinking about my next project. I want to stay in the New Adult sector, but I’ve been feeling a little uninspired. I really want to turn the New Adult “standard” premise (think: first relationships; first time away from home; first job etc.) on its head, and do something unexpected.

Recently, I was watching Despicable Me on a flight from San Francisco to New York. I was tired from a weekend of visiting my little sis, so maybe my enthusiasm was a side effect of exhaustion, but I loooooved the original premise: a capital “V,” Villain becomes a capital “H,” Hero. Not to mention the nuances that were created by the addition of the children. I thought it was brilliant and completely opposite of a conventional children’s story/fairy tale.

I think original premises come from asking “what if” questions. Example: “What if a villain who wants to destroy the world suddenly had kids to take care of?” There’s a bunch of these completely reversed/inverted formulas out there, and I can think of a few from off the top of my head:

Wicked: What if the Wicked Witch wasn’t wicked, just misunderstood?

Shrek: What if instead of the beast transforming into a handsome prince; the prince (Princess Fiona) becomes the beast (an ogre)?

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Usually the vampire chases the girl. What if the girl chases the vampire?

Creator Joss Whedan wanted to create an inversion of the Hollywood formula of "the little blonde girl who goes into a dark alley and gets killed in every horror movie."

Creator Joss Whedan wanted to create an inversion of the Hollywood formula of “the little blonde girl who goes into a dark alley and gets killed in every horror movie.”

These days, reversing the formula isn’t always easy, partly because counter culture has become mainstream, and good creatives are attuned to this:  The tattooed vegan is the “adorkable” leading lady. S&M erotica doubles as mommy porn. Vampires are the good guys. Nerds are cool.

But by observing these inverted archetypes, reversed formulas, and stereotypes turned on their heads, maybe we can train our minds to think in a new way. When you’re writing and concepting, remember that the world is full of yet-to-be-born great ideas. 

What about you? What was the last thing you watched/read that threw you through a loop? And any ideas on how to reverse or stir up a New Adult premise?

Happy writing!

Advertisements