52 Ways to Shift Your Focus: Familiar Stories, Alternative Viewpoints

Shift #44: Familiar Stories, Alternative Viewpoints

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how retelling stories from different points of view changes the narrative message. Fairy tales, specifically – taking something familiar and beloved, like Cinderella, and retelling the story from the stepmother’s point of view. Or retelling it from the prince’s point of view. Or maybe retelling Goldilocks and the Three Bears from Papa Bear’s point of view. In fact, could there have been a spider in the corner who saw the whole story unfold and whose rendition makes the original narrator unreliable.

This is a technique that’s been used by many writers to get to a new way of telling a bigger story (who’s read Wicked or watched the television series Once Upon a Time?) and it’s a great technique for shifting our own little points of view as we sip coffee and read newspapers in our kitchens in some relatively safe spot in the world. We keep digesting news and stories in our habitual ways every day without much thought about the other sides of those stories that are handed to us. It’s easy to get lazy.

As critical thinkers, which writers and artist have to be in order to produce any work that’s worth a damn, this kind of exercise is both fun and good for us. This is one way to create an alternate universe for these familiar tales. It’s also a technique we can use to expand our body of work by building on what we’ve already done.

For example, I had a piece of flash fiction published at Postcard Poems and Prose that was written from the point of view of a woman whose partner cheated. I really liked that story (luckily, so did a few other people) and I could stay in that story a little longer by writing it from the point of view of the partner who cheated. I could do it all over again from the point of view of the mistress. And I might have two more pieces of flash fiction, or I might spin one of them in to something longer. I could also spin one into poetry instead of fiction. The story is a universal one and all those point of view possibilities offer their own twist. Which one could be the most interesting? Which one would allow me, as writer, to poke into a persona that is usually unacceptable? Which one would offer me the fun of being really “bad”? Could I successfully write a story that is morally ambiguous? Could I spin it off even further and create a witness that did not appear in the original work?

In an earlier blog post in this series, I discussed character development in a similar sort of way, by looking at how to approach family stories from the point of view of another family member. If you want to look back at that post, see Shift #16: Complete Characters. That post is a little more about understanding character motivation, but dovetails nicely with today’s idea.

Possibilities. If we don’t immediately accept the viewpoint of the stories we’re given, there’s no telling what our minds can come up with. Go turn a familiar story on its head.


6 comments

  1. I suspect the viewpoint of the cheating partner is the one we see least often. Consequently it would be the one I would be most interested in.
    And I have often (for no reason I can pin-point) felt very sorry for the giant in Jack and the bean stalk. Perhaps I can pin-point it. At the end of the day, Jack was a thief. He felt morally justified I am sure, but a thief he was.

  2. I read your flash fiction piece and appreciated the unexpected perspective. Congrats on that publication, BTW.

    I read this post earlier and have been thinking about it and how, specifically, I could rework a poem I penned about my son being struck by a hit-and-run driver in 2006. That poem was written from my emotional viewpoint and actually earned an honorable mention in a competition. Now, I wonder if I could get inside the head of that driver and see what he was thinking. The driver has never been found. Could be an interesting writing “project” for me.

  3. Thanks for checking out the flash piece.
    That poem you are thinking about reworking – that's a brave one to tackle. I would have a tough time if that were my kid who had been hit, so kudos to you for considering that alternative point of view. I'd love to know what you come up with.


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