The ‘NEW’ story is the elusive holy grail that writers are constantly searching for. And just when you think you have it, it slips through your fingers like sand. In this post, I share a technique I often use to come up with a new take on an old story.
Learnings from Advertising: The technique has its foundation in my advertising experience. In advertising, we believe that there are only so many ideas and almost all of them have been done. To come up with a completely new idea or a USP of a product or a service is usually a very challenging task, especially if you are working on a me-too product. So what we do is, we try to find a new angle : it could be new users, new markets or a new way to use the product. We then re-package the existing product with a whole new look, and relaunch it to a completely different audience.
A writer’s struggle: I believe this applies to the task of creative writing as well. Every relationship between humans, animals and other beings of our imagination has been explored to death. So as writers, when we sit down to write, we often wonder why someone would want to read our writings. At the end of the day, you would be writing about some relationship, some observation about your surroundings, or some experience that has left an impact on you. Writers before us have written such profound thoughts, that it is only natural for us to question our own work. Often this questioning makes us leave the writing half way, and we give up the piece in the hope of finding something completely new.
Use the technique, find a new perspective: Well, if this sounds like the struggle you face every time you sit down to write, here is how you can use advertising’s creative strategy to come up with a new story. Change the perspective from which your story will be told. Re-package it for a completely different audience.
When you look around you, you will find several common storylines, usually written from the point of view of a couple of main characters. Let me illustrate what I mean.
Common storyline: Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl is not interested, boy chases girl ardently, finally convinces her to marry him.
Obvious perspectives: This story can be told from six very obvious perspectives: that of the boy, the girl, the boy’s mother / father, the girl’s mother / father. And several stories have been woven around these perspectives. The friends of the hero and heroine are other two POVs that can make for interesting reading.
Retelling the same story with a difference: So given that these 8 perspectives have been done to death, with some classics having been created out of these, how do you go about telling this story with a difference?
Well, I search for yet another perspective, I look at relationships around me in the real world, and try to find perspectives that lie beyond the obvious. For instance, for this story, I could write from the perspective of a plant that the young girl speaks to when she is alone, or it could be the café owner where the young couple meets up regularly for coffee as the boy tries to convince the girl; or it could be a mentor or a teacher who has watched one of the two protagonists grow, coached the person for a goal and now finds him / her completely out of sync due to this relationship.
Choose from the kaleidoscope of relationships: As you will see, the perspectives can be endless, pretty much like looking through a kaleidoscope, where the pattern changes every time you turn k’scope even slightly. As writers and readers, we are fascinated by human relationships, reactions and responses; and it is interesting to see how the same situation is interpreted so differently by each individual. Each of us deciphers the situation based on our understanding, our past experiences, our belief systems.
What may be acceptable for one individual, may be complete sacrilege for another. How would your narrator view a certain incident given his / her upbringing and character – it is when you start exploring these unique individual perspectives that you arrive at a new way of rendering the ancient storyline.
Do: Take a relook at some of your favourite stories, visualize the narrator, and then imagine if the same story was to be told by another character of the same story. You will see the story will change.
Finding a new story: Changing perspectives, then, is a key tool I like to use in my work when I write, whether it is a poem, a short story or an ad. It gives me a new angle to look at things from, it changes an old dead beat story to something novel and fresh.
If you give this approach a try, I would love to know how your experiment turns out. Do drop me a mail, or share your piece here.
~ Bharti Athray
Image source: http://fineartamerica.com/