Today’s topic is retelling. Specifically, a few tips on how to tell a familiar story without it just being a cleverly-reworded version of the original.
I often tell the story of how I started my life as a storyteller. I was six years old and couldn’t sleep, so I imagined that I was Snow White and trying to come back to life after being poisoned by the evil queen. I imagined paralysis and trying to get a message to my dwarves when I couldn’t move my mouth. I thought about how angry and/or hurt I would feel about how relentlessly the woman who helped raise me was trying to kill me.
Decades later, I’m still driven to storytelling by these little shifts in perspective. My Swan Lake retelling story came because I thought “This would never work if the only people she ever met were at all-night convenience stories.” “Ethical Wills” answered the question of what would happen if someone leaving a nutcracker doll in a will would also pass on the friendship with the Nutcracker Prince. I once wrote a synopsis of Swan Lake where Von Rothbart is a wildlife conservationist, not a sorcerer.
And it’s not just me. Looking at Cinderella re-tellings, Ella Enchanted makes Cinderella so subservient to her family because she’s cursed with obedience. What is Lost has a Cinderella who wears a mask because she was branded with the mark of a criminal on the worst night of her life. I have a friend whose Cinderella can only wear a ballgown for a certain period because the battery pack on r clothing projector only works for certain number of hours. In Jane Green’s Jemima J, a girl undergoes a massive transformation, only to discover that she wants to find a way to be more comfortable with herself.
The key to retellings is to develop critical questions about any story you read. Here are a few examples:
- What would happen if this took place in a different time? Example: I gave Aislin a 14th-century curse, but the politics changed over the centuries and women are a lot more in control of their own lives than when the curse was originally instated.
- Would changing the location make a difference? What would happen if Cinderella took place in a society that theoretically relies more on meritocracy than the whims of the monarchy?
- How does the protagonist feel about their circumstances? One of my plot bunnies in my head deals with a version of Camelot in which Arthur seeks supernatural intervention because he feels trapped by his poverty, but all his usual aollies are rallied against him for seizing too much power and involving evil-doers.
- If you change the circumstances, will it change their response? This can be a very interesting way to take things. On the other hand, I’m a little infamous for “To Cast Away Stones,” in which time travel and months of effort make ABSOLUTELY NO DIFFERENCE in preventing a great tragedy.
- If you change their attitude, will it affect the outcome? WhWickedat if Belle, truly cheesed off by her imprisonment by the Beast, decides to pot his demise and/or to escape and go for help?
- What can you do to change the story using either the antagonist or the direct object of the protagonist’s actions? Look at Malificent, Wicked, or even The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by A. Wolf.