Some say, there are no stories left untold, that all original ideas are already taken, and that all new novels are just old stories regurgitated. If that’s true, then what would be the point of buying new books? Whatever the reason for recurring themes or ideas, writers are always finding ways to break the boundaries.
But what about using past stories to our advantage? Lately, there has been an influx of novels hitting the shelves that retell an old story in a new way.
I’ve recently discovered The Lunar Chronicles (Yeah, I know. I’m a little late to the party). Growing up, I loved the story of Cinderella, so when I picked up Marissa Meyer’s novel, Cinder, I thought she had some pretty big slippers to fill (heh, see what I did there?).
Here’s what Marissa Meyer has to say about re-creating old stories:
“I think the most important part (like writing ANY story, not just retellings), is to find the idea that you’re most passionate about, the idea you can’t get out of your head. Maybe you only want to change one small element of a known story, or maybe you want to entirely revamp it. Either way, do what’s calling to you, because I do believe the only way to write a good story is to write the story you’re in love with.”
Thank you for taking the time to share your advice with us Marissa.
So how can you breathe new life into an old story or fairytale and still make it your own?
1. Modern Characters
Today, characterization trumps all. Well, you still need a good plot, but what did we really know about Cinderella, besides the fact that she wanted a better life? What were her quirks, her bad habits, her fears? And surely she must have had some negative thoughts about her mean sisters. In Marissa’s adaptation, we are drawn into Cinder’s world through the eyes of a character we can associate with, a fighter, an independent thinker, someone with imperfections like each of us, not to mention you can’t get any more modern than a cyborg! Make your characters relatable to those of us in the 21st century.
2. Innovative Settings
This is the quickest and most obvious way to put a twist into the story. Instead of a castle, make it a military base. Instead of a windowless tower, make it an orphanage. Instead of a dragon’s den, make it a casino.
3. New-Age Obstacles
We may not have armoured knights, witches, and dragons to deal with today, but we do have security guards, mean girls, and street gangs. Or create your own original sources of conflict and hinderances specific to your character and their world, whether it’s an physical barrier or perhaps a social, political or emotional one.
4. Alternate Point Of View
Is there an unsung hero somewhere in the fairytale? A character even more interesting than the princess or prince charming? An overshadowed sidekick? Imagine the stories they could tell.
5. Unhappily Ever After
What if things didn’t work out they way they were supposed to? Turn the story on it’s head. Perhaps the miller’s daughter actually fell in love with Rumpelstiltskin, or Sleeping Beauty’s prince charming ran away with her sister. What if a shallow beauty becomes the beast in the end to let go of society’s idea of beautiful? Okay, these are just examples of new happy endings. Can you find a new direction for your story? One that will keep your readers guessing until the very end?
6. Everyone Loves A Bad Boy
What if the evildoer in the old story is actually the misunderstood good guy or the new hero of the tale? On the other hand, can the good guy be the real troublemaker? Maybe Jack was the bully picking on the peace-loving giants who just wanted to be left alone.
7. Distance Yourself
You’re writing the story because it inspires you, because like Marissa says, you’re in love with it. But that doesn’t mean you need to copy the story right to the letter. In fact, deviate from that story as much as you possibly can. To do this, discover what really inspired you in the first place and focus on that. Was it the underlying message, the world, the theme, the romance?
So is there a story you grew up reading a million times? One that speaks to you? Well if you just can’t get it out of your head, maybe it’s time to get it down on paper. But don’t think of it as someone else’s story, an old fairytale that everyone knows. Start thinking of it as your story, take ownership of it and don’t let that old tale hold back your new one.
Haven’t started reading The Lunar Chronicles yet? WIN a copy of both CINDER and SCARLET. TO ENTER: In the comments below, share a tip on how to remain original and fresh when creating any new story.
The draw will be held on May 14th, and I will be using Random.org to help choose the winner and to keep things fair.
Check out this week’s other inspiring blogs and enter your own by viewing this linky tools list.