Monday, November 7, 2016

Retelling Tales Twice Told

I hadn't really realized it, but I seem to have a 'thing' for retelling fairy tales. The first one I retold was "The Elves and the Shoemaker" which turned into the story of a high school boy who happens to have fairies suddenly finishing his math homework. 

Many years later I wrote a retelling of Snow White called "Mirror Glass" which never found a home. It was a short story that I wrote for an anthology call out but I never managed to sell it. 

Then, just last year I finished a novella length retelling of George McDonald's "The Light Princess".

So, what have I learned from all these retellings? Am I just short on my own ideas? Or is there something more? Well I will tell you!

I like retellings for a couple of reasons: 

1- They have the story structure and characters built in, but most fairy tales gloss over enough that you can make them your own. 

2- There is something about the tale that I want to change or twist. Something that I call bullshit on. An unanswered question. A secondary character that was really interesting. Something about it that calls to me to do more with it. 

Now, don't think only fairy tales get retold. How often has Hamlet been done before? Othello? Sherlock Holmes? Alice in Wonderland? The answer is a lot. And every author who takes on such a tale brings something new to the story. Think about the "Elementary" TV show. It's Sherlock and Watson transported too modern day New York. Or take "Once Upon a Time" for example. Disney fairy tale characters struggle in the real world with the same dark magics they struggled with in their own realm. But they all take the original tale, change it, and make it new.

Sometimes it's as simple as gender swapping the characters. Like having a female Watson. Or changing the setting. Perhaps you feel like the story would be really interesting if it took place on the moon. Or perhaps you want to turn Red Riding Hood into a contemporary murder mystery.

Keep in mind the original story but don't feel you have to slavishly follow it. Add depth to the characters. Look for symbols from the original that you can bring into your version. Perhaps there is a theme or resonant feeling that you can amplify.

If you want to write and market a fairy tale retelling the most popular place to do so is in fantasy fiction and young adult. But publishers are looking for a REALLY unique twist on the old tales. So that can be harder to do. Especially if you want to remain faithful to the original. Short story markets can be open to retellings too, but again, it's best to have a great twist. 

Self publishing of course is an option that many authors have embraced and it too is rife with retellings in all genres. 

So dust off those tales from childhood and look at them anew. You just might find your next big inspiration.

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