How One Simple Change Can Lead To Your Next Great Novel

Do you write every day? Most successful writers will tell you that writing every day is critical to keep your skills honed. Even if you are not currently working on a project, spending time each day working on scene development, dialogue, plot points, and character development not only help improve your skills but also can lead to your next great book.

on writingIn Stephen King’s book “On Writing” he offers a writing challenge. If you don’t own the book, check it out of the library for on page 170-173 you will find the beginnings of a story cut from the day’s headlines.

Stephen’s challenge? Reverse the genders and rewrite the story. The prompt is too long to repeat here and besides, his book is worth a read. However the point of his exercise is to take a story we are familiar with and make one big change to see how it will impact the story.

A great example of this is John Grisham’s first novel A Time to Kill. In the book a young black girl is brutalized by two local men. Her father takes matters into his own hands and is eventually on trial. The community is depicted as a primarily white town with definite racist tendencies. At the end of the trial the lawyer for the father asks the jury to imagine the entire scenario but this time imagine the young girl to be white.

time to killYou can see by the looks on the faces of the jurors that the one simple change, a change that really shouldn’t change their views, will make them see the situation in a completely different light.

Try that yourself. Take a story from your local news, a favorite Grimm’s tale or a story passed down through time and change one element and then give it a go.

Look for examples in your real life. If you are a parent of a teen, do you give your boy teen more liberties than your girl? Why is that? Think of a story in your own child’s life and now retell the story with a different sibling. How does that change, not only the outcome, but how you react.

A story we are all familiar with is the Christmas Story. We hear it retold every year and you might think there isn’t anything new to discover in that story. However, Carol Watson found an interesting twist to a classic story. In her book The Christmas Dove she retells this classic from the point of view of a small dove. Imagine what this tiny bird sees as the story dove

You might even take a book you have already self-published and try rewriting the story from a different person’s point of view.

When I hear a frustrated author tell me that all of the good stories have already been written, I just shake my head. Even if that were true, every story has so many sides that have yet to be explored.

Let’s take the nursery rhyme Mary Had a Little Lamb. Just to refresh your memory:

Mary had a little lamb


Mary had a little lamb,

Its fleece was white as snow;

And everywhere that Mary went

The lamb was sure to go.

It followed her to school one day,

Which was against the rule;

It made the children laugh and play

To see a lamb at school.

And so the teacher turned it out,

But still it lingered near,

And waited patiently about

Till Mary did appear.

Why does the lamb love Mary so?

The eager children cry;

Why, Mary loves the lamb, you know,

The teacher did reply.

The story has already been told, right? Let’s try making a few changes. What would the story look like if…

  • It was a black sheep
  • Mary was Martin
  • Mary was a Martian
  • The teacher decided to take the lamb to the cafeteria cook instead of tying it up outside
  • The lamb refused to follow Mary and stubbornly stayed in the barn
  • The lamb could fly
  • The lamb was part of a group of teen-aged mutant Ninja lambs
  • Mary could talk to animals
  • The lamb was a baby tiger, elephant, fox, alligator

See how making one little change to a classic story can change it from a simple children’s rhyme to science fiction, horror, adventure or just plain silly?

Speaking of children’s stories, why not get your children involved in the writing fun? Make it a fun family activity. What better way to help your child improve their vocabulary, writing skills, storytelling abilities and penmanship?

Bottom Line: The more you practice writing the better you will become and what better way to practice than by taking a story you already know and just changing one thing to see what happens. Have fun!