Prompt: How to put a fresh twist into a topic that has been super-saturated with books and films?
This prompt was given to me by my friend, Peg. Thank you, Peg for saving this week’s blog.
The first thing that comes to mind is zombies. American fiction and cinema is obsessed with them. The idea that human beings become their own worst enemy and threaten everything that we as a species know to be normal. The thing that takes us down is our reliance on technology or an unknown disease. When you really think about it. Most tales are told from the perspective of the human’s overwhelmed by creatures overwhelmed by desire for flesh. If you change human flesh to blood, you have vampires. But, let’s stick with zombies for now.
A fresh twist could be as simple as writing the tale from the zombie’s perspective or from the scientist who created the zombies. Was it a mistake or did he do it on purpose? Similar to the twisted logic of Thanos, pure and unemotional. The solution to the problems of the humanity/universe are simple if you have the fortitude for it.
Twisting a common topic isn’t as hard as one might think as long as you are willing to question and can change perspectives. You can change the perspective of the villain or a minor character.
Imagine if the tale of Beauty and the Beast was told from the perspective of Gaston or Lefou, his sidekick. How would they see it? Lefou depending on when you begin telling the tale and how you see him could become a villain or a hero.
The key is changing perspective. Imagine if you were to tell the tale of Beauty and the Beast as a horror story, where the Beauty is the villain kept captive by the sleeping spell. How would things change? Would the prince be a savior or an accomplice? Is he trying to save his love or revive his master?
These twists seem hard but they can be accomplished by the wandering mind and a willingness to change the accepted norms.
“Twisted Fairy Tale” is a favorite genre of mine. Let’s start with Alethea Kontis’s Woodcutter series that artfully weaves what we think we know about classic fairy tales with realism and an intellectual sensible that makes the character’s even more endearing. It is a must read for those in love with fairy tales, fantasy and fiction.
Next, let’s move on to one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman. I have fallen in love with his storytelling over the last couple of years studying writing. He routinely takes things and turns them asking the what if questions and engaging readers with his answers. One of my favorites is his take on Sleeping Beauty (Snow, Glass and Apples) where the tale is told from the Evil Queen’ perspective and the sweet princess is a villain preying on her father and her beloved prince. It does not have a happy ending. Yet, the tale’s twist satisfies the reader and makes them yearn for more.
Another example is “Into the Woods” by playwright James Lapine and music by none other by Steven Sondiem. This production asks the simple question of what happens after the happy ending. When I first saw it twenty years ago as a student production at Virginia Tech, I was mesmerized. After all what happens after the happy ending, do they live in that happiness or does reality set in?
The stories that follow the question “what if” are unique and follow similar lines to the original tale or, in the case of Into the Woods, take up the question of what happens after the story. It is also how a lot of storytelling is created. What if alien’s landed on earth? How would humanity react ? (World of the Wars, Close Encounters and so many more?) What if the first manned mission to Mars goes wrong? (The Martian) Each of these are twists on one tale of another.
Consider the Martian and Castaway twists on Daniel Defos’ Robinson Crusoe which is believed to be based on the true story of Alexander Selkirk who was stranded on an island in the South Pacific for four years before his rescue. So many stories were based on Defos’ work that they became their own genre, Robinsade.
Twisting a traditional or popular topic begins with asking the question “what if?” and going with answers until a new tale is told.