Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Variations on a Theme


A few years ago, something happened that gave me a whole new approach to my writing.

An old boyfriend sent me an email through Classmates.com. No, I never replied. I’m a happily married woman. But it got me wondering: what if I had been a different person, if I hadn’t been so happy? What if I had made bad choices along the road that left me alone and desperate? What if I suddenly heard through the grapevine about that long lost love?

I wrote my first story on this idea, a piece called “Vicki, Existentially,” about a woman who regrets breaking up with her now-successful former lover and foolishly goes to his house while drunk one night.

I was pleased with the story, but I still felt like there was more to write. Somehow, things felt undone.

Before long, I found myself wondering how I would have felt if I were a moderately happy woman who loved her husband, but perhaps missed that special connection she and her former lover shared. Perhaps she missed it to the point that she felt compelled to meet with the former lover, in spite of their rocky past.

That one became “Now and Then,” a story about Liz, a woman in her forties who was shocked to find herself meeting her former lover, David, for drinks.

But I still wasn’t done.

I started wondering what would happen if a content, married woman was suddenly confronted with the memory of her former lover.

“The Wayside” was born, a story about a woman coping with mixed emotions when she discovers that a place significant to her former relationship has been closed.

Three stories, all of them different. And guess what—I still don’t feel like I’m done.

I'm sure this parade of stories about women reflecting on past relationships has my writing buddies wondering: is my marriage in shambles? Is my husband a jerk? I can’t blame them for wondering. I keep circling this subject like a Hot Wheel whizzing around a plastic track. But I can’t help myself. I’ve tripped across this fascinating new writing kick, a way to reexamine things by making small, but significant changes that end up changing the story completely. I call it Variations on a Theme.

This concept works on so many levels. Rewriting the same story with a different form—say, a long short story condensed down into a micro flash. I’ve even found myself writing short pieces about secondary characters in my novels, just trying to get a new view of who they really are. The possibilities are endless. Similar stories look completely different when they’re seen through a different lens.

So I challenge you: revisit a story and tell it in a brand new way. Switch up viewpoint. Change tense. Give your character a whole new fatal flaw. I think you’ll be amazed where those differences will lead you.


Stephen said...

First off, thank you for the challenge. I'll have to look back at some of my stories to see what changes I can make.

Secondly: "I'm sure this parade of stories about women reflecting on past relationships has my writing buddies wondering: is my marriage in shambles?"

Isn't it an awful feeling? While I believe that stories are an extension of you as a writer, that only means that they come from past experiences or personal attempts to understand the emotions when you haven't experienced them yourself. They don't reflect who you are. What would it say if some of the horror and crime that I write truly reflected me as a person? I dare say that my wife would divorce me, my family would disown me, and my friends would banish me to the farthest regions of Siberia. Thankfully, everyone is still around. But then, maybe that's only because they can't see everything that spins around in my warped little mind. ;)

Good posting.

Greta said...

Thanks, Stephen. I'll be interested to see what you come up with. I wonder what would happen if you played with that Tony Hillerman contest entry a little. Or perhaps another take on your story about the paleontologists (or were they archaeologists? It's been awhile.) That one might be kinda fun if written from the POV of one of the creatures, like this thing is STALKING them. YIKES!