So you’ve got an awesome idea for a story in your head, it’s all planned out from beginning-to-end; all you need to do is transfer it from your head to the page in front of you. Simplicity, no?
Well, not always. Sometimes you start getting it out on the page, and suddenly it’s not working the way it did in your head, and you can’t figure out why. We’ve all been there, right? In your head, it’s a great idea, but on the page it is a mess. Have you had this happen to you? I know it’s happened to me plenty of times.
So I wanted to share a neat little writing exercise that I like to try in these situations: changing the point-of-view character. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to change the protagonist of your story; you just need to change who is telling the story.
So, let’s say you are writing a first-person account where your protagonist (Jill) is having a fight with her good friend (Jack). But you are really getting into the meat of the fight and you find something isn’t ringing true. The cuts and jibes seem hollow and directionless because suddenly the purpose of the fight isn’t clear, and you can’t figure out why that is. It’s clear in your head; why isn’t it clear on the page?
Well, try writing that scene from Jack’s perspective—keep it first-person, but now it’s Jack’s head we’re in, not Jill. What could you learn from this? You might be surprised, but you could learn a lot from this. One of the things you might learn is that maybe you don’t know Jack as well as you think you do, and when forced to directly confront and relate with his issues, you realize you don’t know what they are.
Maybe you learn Jack isn’t the person you thought he was.
Maybe you discover that he’s actually the one in the right in this argument, and you are getting stuck because you’ve been on Jill’s side this whole time.
But what if you wrote the story from the perspective of another patron of the restaurant where the argument is taking place? What could you learn then? What sort of details might come out that you missed before?
None of this says that you have to stick with the new perspective. There’s probably a reason you originally chose to write the story from Jill’s perspective, and there’s a good chance it’s the right choice. But writing this scene from different perspectives will give you a different look at the scene, which in turn will allow you to see details and aspects of the scene that you might have missed before—things that will only help make your scene or story better.
So the next time you are stuck on your story, give this a try. You might be surprised at what you learn.