Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Writing Wednesday: Twist, Spin, Flip

Lol, no - that's not the 'surefire way to make pancakes'. I know I was in recipe mood lately but today we're not talking of food. We're gonna talk about how you can twist, spin, and flip to bring fresh, new, and original to your writing.

Before I continue, let me post this disclaimer. I have no idea if the notion of 'twist, spin, flip' is copyrighted to anyone, or if it's the brainchild of anyone out there. I read literally hundreds of writing advice articles every year (been writing for 6 years now, do the math) so I dunno who said what and where. If the owner of this notion sees this and can show me s/he originated this idea and has a copyright over it, get in touch with me and I'll take the post down and give you due credit.

So, back to the topic at hand. I started the series of writing posts on originality back in December. The posts I've had up so far covered difference in similarity, and how using backstory can be a treasure trove of originality. Today I talk about the techniques that can be used to bring fresh, new, and original to your writing.

Let's go through it one by one.

What does this word mean? The definition that interests us in writing is the following (Merriam Webster Dictionary) :

 to make (one's way) in a winding or devious manner to a destination or objective

Let's wrap this around to say that in writing, 'twist' means an unexpected direction/manner in the story or the characterization.

Take the idea of 'students'. Automatically, you think 'school'. Which in the writing world, pretty much goes to 'YA".
Add a twist to the idea:

What if those students were adult immigrants who don't speak English? (the very popular sit-com Mind Your Language back in the 70s & 80s in England)
What if those students are people in a certain profession who have to go back to school to brush up their skills/knowledge?
What if a middle-age parent finds himself/herself thrown back into high school? (17 Again, starring Matthew Perry & Zac Efron)

Now take it back to YA:

Are the kids rich and famous? (Beverly Hills 90210 in the 90s, on the California coast. Gossip Girl on the East Coast, Manhattan Upper East Side, post-2000, plus more modern technology with the blog of Gossip Girl)
Is the academy 'special'? (Sky High, where the kids of superheroes go)

Like the above, you take an idea. Figure out the 'expected' where it is concerned. See what you can do differently - break the cliche, slant the characterization, take it into a whole setup.
Find what 'threads' there are in the yarn of the idea and twist them.

The Free Online Dictionary has this definition that interests us writers:

To provide an interpretation of (a statement or event, for example), especially in a way meant to sway public opinion

So spin in writing can be said to provide one's own interpretation/slant on an idea.

Let's take a few examples of concrete spinning.

The subject: Chick Lit


Cami Tang - Romance with a kick of Wasabi: she takes normal girl chick lit and spins it with the life and experiences of a modern Asian-American. Expect wasabi and other Asian references in her stories. Case in point, she has a Sushi series.

Nisha Minhas - she writes chick lit about Indo-Britons with a thick dash of Indian massala. Expect references to chappatis, saris, bindis and other related Indian lifestyle stuff in her chick lit.

Marian Keyes - chick lit again, but Ms. Keyes writes mostly Irish characters living in Ireland. The spin = total Irish culture and slant in her writings.

Sophie Kinsella - her slant comes through her writing voice, which is light, airy, funny, and totally loaded with humour.

You can take every idea, every genre, and insert your own personal slant/spin on it. Overlaps a bit with 'finding your niche', but this is completely doable. All of the above authors have heroines in their 20s in the first decade of the 2000s. Basically, they should be pretty much one and the same character (same age, exposure to same happenings, technological advancements, etc). But each one infuses something different into the narrative and characters and this results in fresh, new, original.

Another take on spin would be literally, 'put your own spin' on a theme/idea.

Case in point: Twilight series v/s the Sookie Stackhouse series.

Both deal with vampires, but one has a chaste, forbidden love approach, while the other is sexy and very lustful, with a grown up and totally adult-mature slant to it. Following upon their differentiation, both series then focus on aspects pertinent to their approach. Twilight has young love as its focus, while the Sookie books have things like war and battle of species/clans and nefarious/devious intents and behaviour.

Merriam Webster dictionary defines this one as:

to toss so as to cause a turn over in the air

So applying this to a story idea, we'd thus 'toss it' and watch how it falls back down (and no, this is not like toast that always ends up buttered side down!)

Examples - let's take the idea of 'pregnancy'

The ripped condom/missed pill/contraceptive failure = a flip depending on which you use and how you use it

The heroine in a romance does not end up with the baby daddy (The Back Up Plan has this, even if the baby daddy in question is only a number on a vial of donated sperm.)

Unexpected, late in life pregnancy

Multiple babies pregnancy (and in today's world, does that make you a contender for competition in the arena of the Duggars' 19 and Counting and Kate Plus Eight?)

I've used all of these techniques in my writing. I've twisted elements - my novel The Other Side asked about HEA after divorce. In Light My World, I had a modern version of Cinderella-like-in-love looking for Prince Charming and coming up against frogs. Storms in a Shot Glass was a pregnancy story that took place in the realm of the rich and famous, the kind pursued by paparazzi and tabloids.

I've spun on genres - the first two mentioned here were about modern young women but of Indo-Mauritian origin. I brought Mauritius on the romance-writing map and showed what looking for love was like on the island. I've spun the notion of romantic comedy and made it lead towards comedy of errors where the last book is concerned.

I've flipped ideas - marriage is not the HEA fairy tales promised (The Other Side). Prince Charming appears as a frog with a serious need for manners and civility in Light My World. The baby daddy and the man the heroine ends up with in Storms in a Shot Glass are two very different people.

Try making a 3D pancake next time you're writing a story. Twist, spin, and flip it all over so you can end up with something fresh, new, and original.

What techniques do you use to make sure your writing is different? Ever twisted, spun, and flipped?

From Mauritius with love,


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