Idea Generation: Flip an Old Idea on Its Head

Yesterday I saw this book trailer for The Very Hungry Plant by Renato Moriconi. My first thought was “Wow! What a great way to generate ideas by flipping an old idea on its head.” Maybe I should elaborate – when I saw the book title, I thought that this was the opposite of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Watch the trailer and you will see that this new title includes a nod to Eric Carle.

Did his work inspire this book? I don’t know but think about the number of ideas you could come up with by flipping a well-known story on its head. Clearly, Moriconi wasn’t the first to do this. Jon Scieszka did this when he wrote The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. And then there is Wicked by Gregory Maguire.

Let’s start by brainstorming fairy tales and legends. A quick list might include:

  • Red Riding Hood
  • The Three Bears
  • The Three Billy Goats Gruff
  • Jack and the Beanstalk
  • The Elves and the Shoe Maker
  • Snow White
  • Cinderella
  • Paul Bunyan
  • Mike Fink

So how would you flip one of these ideas? You can tell the story from another characters point of view. Red Riding Hood has already been told from the wolf’s point of view. But what about retelling Jack and the Beanstalk from the point of view of the giant? Or the harp? How do the elves feel about having to finish up the work of the shoe maker every single night? Or you might retell Cinderella from the point of view of the step-sisters. What could make a pair of girls be so mean to a new sibling?

This is the sort of exercise that would only be improved by brain storming. How many ways can you change a fairy tale and still have it be recognizable. What if Jack and the Beanstalk took place with Jack living at the bottom of a mesa and the giant on top? What if it was a midwestern story with Jack climbing up a giant corn stalk?

Of course, you don’t have to flip a fairy tale. Why not try this with one of your own stories that just isn’t going anywhere? You may find that a new POV gives it the energy needed to succeed.


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