Upcycling is a process of transforming something old, unwanted or tatty into something swish, chic and desirable. When it comes to upcycling stories, you take a story that’s flat or hackneyed and upcycle it into new and exciting prose. It doesn’t even have to be your own old story: upcycling fairy tales or legends can be a lot of fun, and the resulting story is a unique twist on a familiar tale. So how do you upcycle a story?
Firstly, change the setting. Placing a story in a new setting brings with it a whole new set of challenges for your characters to overcome; a smorgasbord of tensions and conflicts to fuel the story and increase the pace. Imagine Cinderella set during the French Revolution or on a space station in the distant future. Readers love to be transported to exotic or unusual locations, so list ten different locations and time periods and see which ones fire your interest. Though we’re often told to write about what we know, there is plenty of information around for you to write convincingly about a place you’ve never visited.
Secondly, see the story through different characters’ eyes. Imagine Pride and Prejudice being told by the younger sisters, or the maid, or Mr Collins. Remember that a character doesn’t exist in a bubble: they have a back story that has got them to the point at which the story begins. Spend time exploring the backstories of all the characters in your story and work out how this will influence their decisions and reactions.
Next change the sex of some of the characters. Make the fairy godmother male and see how the interaction between him and Cinderella perks up. What would Romeo and Juliet be like if the warring factions were all female?
Finally, have a look at the story’s themes. Stories often have a main theme and a secondary one. Cinderella is about finding true love, but also about overcoming oppression. Switch the themes around, making overcoming oppression the main theme, and true love a secondary. See how you can reflect these themes in new ways, for example the oppression could be in the form of racism, disability or workplace bullying.
Take a story from your ‘beyond help’ folder (those stories that don’t work and you can’t see how to fix them) and upcycle it. A few changes to an old story can transform a tired and flat story into one that zips along, full of fascinating characters and reflecting familiar themes in fresh ways.
Kim Fleet is a prize-winning short story writer, novelist and writing coach. Her latest novel, Paternoster, was published in 2015 by the History Press. www.kimfleet.com