Everyone loves a good retelling of the classics. I especially love fairy tale retellings, and I’ve read more than I can probably count.
So here’s a list of tips for writing a good retelling that even the most avid fans of the original material will enjoy, from both a writer and reader’s perspective.
- Keep the Original Theme(s): Now of course, when you’re retelling a story you want to put your own flare on it and make it as unique as possible to set it apart from both the original story and other retellings.What some authors do, though, that betrays them in the end is that they change it too much. An example of this is Splintered by A. G. Howard. While the premise is interesting, the entire book lacks the wonder that the original Alice in Wonderland text by Lewis Carroll inspired, and the main character, a descendent of the original Alice in the books, displays little to no interest in Wonderland itself, instead distracted by brooding, attractive versions of the original male characters.
An example of this done well is The Fall by Bethany Griffin. The book is a retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher in a young adult horror/suspense novel. Though it goes more in depth with the background of Poe’s characters and flourishes the story in places where Poe left details unknown, the story still keeps the original creepy, intriguing themes that the original short story had.
- Have Confidence: Be confident with the decisions you make about how you’re adapting the story. If you don’t believe in your story, the reader will be able to tell. Of course it’s hard to rewrite a book you grew up on or a story you’re in love with, so if you’re not prepared to do it; don’t.
- Do Not Change Characters-Flourish them: Readers do not connect with the world or the scientific details or the magic of the story when they first pick it up; that comes later. Characters come first. They’re what make readers keep reading, and come back for more.If you drastically change the character’s personality, such as the next-generation-Alice in Splintered or the “next Dorothy” in Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige, your readers will be, at the very least, put off, at the worst, flat out angry.
So give them a reason to love your version of the character; add traits and quirks and backstory; do not take them away
- Make Your Choices Count: If you’re making a change to a story, make sure you know why, and be prepared to defend your decision. Though we just got done saying not to change characters, the decision to change characters IS a decision that only the author can make.The only one that I have seen pull it off incredibly well is Frank Beddor in The Looking Glass Wars series, incidentally the best rewrite of any fairytale I’ve read.
This is a series of books rewritten from Alice in Wonderland in which the Cheshire Cat is the queen’s personal assassin, and Mad Hatter is a man named Hatter Madigan, the princess Alice’s personal body guard. Obviously, these are huge changes, but he stuck with them and built a Wonderland that was so rich and detailed that it worked.
This was because he made certain choices and kept to them, and one of those choices was to keep Alice the same. She and Redd (the Red Queen) didn’t change much from their original characters; they only grew and flourished. So Beddor gave the readers pivotal pieces of the original story that remained the same, leaving the reader’s mind open to other changes.
And check out my full serial novelette, Trust Me!