Sara had a point. After all, there are thousands of books being published each year. What would make her story so interesting that everyone else will want to read it? When faced with such a dilemma, the elements of writing fiction become very useful even if your focus is non-fiction. The relevant elements are to look for ideas for your story and put a spin on old ideas.
Finding Strong Ideas
To do this, you must become a keen observer and listen to what people say and how they say it. Sometimes, a poignant remark is made with a turn of the head or a particular inflection in the voice. Such observations, when added to the text of your story, will make the story resonate with readers that much more.
For example, say Sara lost her father recently and couldn’t make it in time home for his funeral. These are some of the things writers will observe to help them understand Sara’s depth of sorrow:
- She can’t complete her sentences whenever she speaks about her dad.
- She lowers her eyes and can’t look at the person she’s speaking with. She has a ‘faraway’ look in her eyes.
- There are bags under her eyes because she’s not been sleeping well.
- She has lost so much weight that her clothes are hanging on her frame.
All these details will make any story Sara writes about this period in her life more plausible.
Putting a Spin on a Classic Tale
Another tactic to use is to put a spin on a classic tale. For example, ‘Bride and Prejudice’ is an Indian movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic tale, ‘Pride and Prejudice’. In the movie, Mrs. Bakshi is desperate to find suitable husbands for her four unmarried daughters. The whole family has high hopes that their daughters will marry one of the two rich and single gentlemen – Balraj and Darcy – who come to visit. The story takes many twists and turns which jeopardise any possibility of romance. You know you’ve succeeded in using this method when your readers can see age-old characters in new light.
This will work even if you’re writing your own tale. Take Lee Kuan Yew’s story, for example. After his wife’s demise, the main subject he discussed was, of course, his grief. In the process, he also lost weight and concerned about this, he asked his sister to prepare some of his favourite dishes. Their observations about each other became the ‘spin –off’ that provided much-needed light heartedness.
Join the Conversation
Have you ever struggled to find ideas for your stories? If so, what did you do overcome such challenges. Share them in the comments box below.
- Bride and Prejudice. Dir. Gurinder Chada. Perfs. Martin Henderson, Aishwarya Rai, Nadira Babbar, Anupam Kher, Naveen Andrews. 2005. Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, DVD, Widescreen, NTSC. Miramax Home Entertainment
- Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Tribeca Books (February 11, 2011)
- King, Sophie. How to Write Your Life Story in Ten Easy Steps. How To Books Ltd (October 21, 2010)
- Kuan Yew, Lee. The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew. Prentice Hall; 1st edition (October 14, 1998)
Two Snakes Whistling at the Same Time
Even though Sara had decided to narrow the timeline of her story to eight months of her life, beginning from her father’s funeral and ending when she was told by her boss to leave, she found it hard to write her story and said, “I’m too close to it, Aneeta.”
Instead of taxing her memory about what happened in the last few months, I asked Sara to write about her grandmother’s funeral. As a third party character, she was able to write about those events as they happened easily. She remembered the agony her father felt that he wasn’t there to care for his mother during her last moments of life. Later, she would use all this information to help craft her own story.
Reflect upon your childhood and list five incidents that deeply affected you. With each one, note details such as where, when, how and why it happened. Then, go a little deeper and ask yourself how you’d change these details and their effect on your story.
Aneeta Sundararaj tells the stories of a diverse group of people from cardiologists and Ayurveda practitioners to independent financial advisors. ‘Two Snakes Whistling at the Same Time’ is included in a collection of stories that she is working on. Subscribe to the free newsletter on her website, ‘How to Tell a Great Story’ (http://www.howtotellagreatstory.com).