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Spotlight on Structure: How To Use The Rashomon Storytelling Technique

What Is The Rashomon Storytelling Technique?

If you haven’t heard of the Rashomon storytelling technique, you’ve almost certainly watched a movie or TV show or read a book that uses it. Named after the 1950 Japanese film by Akira Kurosawa’s groundbreaking Rashomon, this technique is known for its use of multiple perspectives to tell a single story.

By allowing different characters to share their individual versions of events, the truth becomes subjective and open to interpretation. Examples of films and TV shows that use the Rashomon technique are …

As you can no doubt guess from the above, the Rashomon technique works particularly well in thriller and comedy. However, authors don’t have to miss out, because we can use it in our novels too! Examples of novels that use the technique …

  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  • The Many Daughters of Afong Moy by Jamie Ford
  • Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff
  • Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid,

But there’s plenty more where all these came from! Now you know what you’re looking for, you will likely to see it everywhere. (CLICK HERE for an epic list of Rashomon-inspired stories in a variety of mediums from TVTropes).

Using Rashomon In Your Own Stories

Interested in using the technique in your own screenplay or novel? B2W’s got you covered! Let’s go …

1) Establish a central conflict

Rashomon stories usually have something ALL the characters are involved in, so it ties the perspectives together. This conflict may be an event, a specific goal, or a location. For example:

  • In Rashomama (CSI), the event happens when crime scene technician Nick’s car is stolen with all the evidence inside. It then becomes a race against time for all the characters to retrieve it.
  • In Trilogy of Error (The Simpsons), the goal is Homer, Lisa and Bart need to be somewhere in this spoof of the classic German thriller Run Lola Run (1998). Of course, a variety of absolutely bizarre obstacles get in their way.
  • In Phil’s Sexy, Sexy House (Modern Family) the location is the house itself. All the characters converge on the house when they shouldn’t be there and hilarity ensues.

B2W TAKEAWAY: A common thread in the plot will give your story coherence and make it more impactful for viewers or readers.

2) Develop distinct voices for each character

The last thing you want is for all the perspectives to blur together! That will have people asking why you bothered using the Rashomon technique at all.

Work hard at making each character’s perspective unique and this will enable the reader or viewer to stay interested.  To achieve this, focus on developing distinct personalities and backgrounds for each character, which will also influence their perception of events.

B2W TAKEAWAY: Your characters’ unique qualities will help readers and viewers feel anchored so they can follow the plot.

3) Show (rather than tell)

Visual storytelling is SUPER important in Rashomon stories. It’s no accident you will remember key images from movies or TV shows that use this technique. (For me, I always remember Mia Wallace’s revival in Pulp Fiction best).

What’s more, don’t simply state what happened from each character’s perspective. Instead, utilise character behaviour and actions that SHOW us. Also, don’t be afraid to allow readers and viewers to draw their own conclusions on what is true or not.

B2W TAKEAWAY: Character behaviour should always trump arguments or characters accusing one another of lying.

4) Consider using unreliable narrators

In the spirit of subjectivity, consider having one or more unreliable narrators who may distort the truth or have hidden agendas. This can add an extra layer of intrigue and keep readers guessing until the end.

We can see this in action in classic movies like The Usual Suspects, or modern icons like Amy Dunne in Gone Girl. Even a character that’s sweet and loving like Lydia in Everything I Never Told You may be a liar for her own reasons.

B2W TAKEAWAY: Never underestimate the power of a character who is a liar (even if it’s for the ‘right’ reasons).

5) Be mindful of pacing

With multiple perspectives comes the challenge of maintaining a steady pace throughout your story. It’s important not to linger too long on one perspective but also not jump too quickly between them without proper transitions.

Finding the right balance will keep readers engaged and invested in each character’s version of events. You can use the free B2W Plotting Worksheet to help you with this.

6) Don’t forget to tie it all together!

It’s important to have a cohesive ending that ties everything together. This could be through an overarching conclusion or a final perspective that sheds light on the truth.

Alternatively, you can have the characters come to some kind of other agreement. This works especially well in comedy (though there is no reason it can’t work in other genres, if done well).

In Trilogy of Error, Marge laughs and says it’s been ‘one crazy day’. In response, Mr Teeny (Krusty the Clown’s monkey) insists – in monkey hoots – that the episode makes no sense. Breaking the fourth wall, Mr Teeny implores the audience to ‘tell the people’.

Last Points

Incorporating the Roshomon storytelling technique into your writing can add depth, complexity, and intrigue to your stories. By following these tips, you can effectively use multiple perspectives to explore the power of subjectivity and leave your readers with a lasting impression.

Good Luck!

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