Monday, 10 January 2011

Looking At Things From A Different Angle

This is the view looking across the market town of Ludlow, Shropshire. It's not a view that many people see, because they're too busy wandering along the streets below. I like this picture, because it's taken from a different angle - it's not a viewpoint that we're used to seeing. To see Ludlow from this angle requires a bit of effort. To reach it, you have to climb 200 steps, in a tight, confined space, and if that doesn't put you off, the warning at the foot of the climb advising those with a heart condition not to undertake the climb, probably will.

It's always worth considering a different angle with your writing too. Like climbing those 200 steps, it may involve a bit of effort, but it's usually worth it. Too often, when we think of an idea, we use the first one that comes to mind. We tend not to look around to see if it is the best angle, we simply go with the initial idea. It's the different angle that editors and readers love. It may not be entirely original (I am not the only person to have seen Ludlow from this viewpoint, after all), but it'll be more original than the angle that everyone else is taking.

October 2005 saw the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. From March 2005 onwards, I was inundated with articles students were writing, which they were hoping to place in magazines to co-incide with the anniversary. Many of these articles recounted the facts about the battle and Nelson's death. On the whole, most of these articles were perfectly good, well-written articles, of publishable quality. But they were all from the same angle.

Another student was clearly thinking about the Trafalgar anniversary, but instead of going with the obvious angle, he decided to write about Nelson's mistress, Lady Hamilton. For her, the Battle of Trafalgar and Nelson's death was a life-changing moment, and not for the better. It marked the start of her decline into debt and drink.

The article stood out because all the other articles focused on Nelson, but this one didn't. The writer had chosen a different angle about the Battle of Trafalgar. Faced with a deluge of articles on the same topic, an editor is more likely to pick the one that looks at the subject from a different, more refreshing angle. (Remember too, this happened nearly six years ago, and I can still remember the article in question, such was its difference.)

The same goes with fiction. If a story isn't working well why not take a look at the character's viewpoint you are using? Would it work better from a different character's perspective? If you're story is about a first date, most writers may begin with the women's point of view. Some may go from the man's perspective. But why not use the waiter who is serving them their meal instead? Or the taxi driver who is dropping them back to their respective addresses ... or is he?

Next time you sit down to write something, just stop and think about your angle. Are you making the obvious choice? If so, try to put in a bit more effort to come up with something completely different. You may be surprised with where it takes you.

Good luck.


  1. Yes I have tried this recently for a short story competition - the theme was 'Yesterday' so I used the old Beatles song with that title as a theme in my story. Awaiting the results.

  2. Have probably mentioned it before, but this reminds me of an article a student of mine wrote about Paris called, I think, The Heights of Paris.

    I see many articles about Paris, and as your post exemplifies, most articles on obvious subjects can be perfectly competent but indistinguishable from the crowd, and so not very saleable.

    This one, as the title suggests, took the reader on a tour of all the tops of high buildings in Paris (and not just the obvious one) and the views afforded by them. It was a simple, effective, original one-pager, which sold to a French-themed mag pretty quickly, as I recall.