I posted on Twitter that I wanted to do a post on retellings and I got a good amount of positive feedback.
There's been a surge of fairy tale and fable retellings in the market today, and as a consequence, as a contest host, I've seen a lot of retellings being submitted to the contests. Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, etc.
The hook of writing a retelling is that it already has a high concept story angle. Yes, the same high concept that many agents are saying they want. I think this high concept is what attracts a lot of writers to retellings.
But here's the catch. Anyone can retell as story. Not everyone can retell a story.
Yes, yes, confusing! But here's what I mean. There are a lot of tips about retelling a story so I'm only going to share my personal view on the 'secret' to a successful retelling.
The Secret to a Retelling lies in the word 'retell' itself. Meaning, you must REtell the story, completely changing it to become your story. Don't just retell it, we know the original story. REtell it.
- Do NOT let the original story cripple you.
This story you're writing is YOUR story. Not the original writer's. Not the mass media's. Do you really want to spend possible/probably years on a novel that isn't yours?
I've seen this in some stories where in order to 'fit' the original story, the writer stretches themselves and breaks their narrative to fit some things in. Let's take, for example, Snow White. You know the whole apple thing. What if you're writing a retelling and, in this mythological world of yours, apples exist only in a faraway country? Will you do the equivalent of stopping the narrative, take the characters on a trip to the country just for the apple? Screw the damn apple if it doesn't fit in your narrative! Let the apple rot!
I beta-read for this one amazing author who wrote a retelling I'm still in love with. Her story was mainly because of her love for the original story. Iconic scenes from the original story forced their way into this retelling and did nothing but stop the narrative and check off another box on a hypothetical list of 'famous parts I must retell.'
Now, this does get into tricky territory. The question you must ask yourself is this: Where am I going to draw the line between taking inspiration from the original story and creating my own ideas? If I were ever to write a retelling, I'd stick mainly/only with that initial 'spark'; the reason I want to write the story in the first place. What part of the original story do I love? What arc of the story is the arc I want in mine? The similar arc would be my retelling.
This is a biggy. Since most probably know the original story, you must come up with an unexpected ending. This is almost a must (I say almost because I don't like talking in 100%s). How you'll make the ending unexpected is up to you. Keeping the same ending as the original story but pointing all clues towards the idea that you won't be ending it the same way? Changing the ending completely (but also making that unpredictable because if the ending is Snow White doesn't need a man's kiss, she can revive herself, we're all expecting that as well)?
Create your own characters. The hard part, for me, is wondering if I like the retelling because of the retelling itself or because I like the original story. Sort of like loving a stranger who looks a lot like a deceased loved one - do you truly love the stranger?
Separate yourself from the original story. Take an axe to it. Proclaim to the reader, "This is my story!" and you'll have it. This is hard to do ("But I love the original story, I must treasure it and respect it in my retelling!") but crucial. Don't give a reader the same story; they might technically like it but it'll be boring for them. Add something new to the narrative. Find your twist, and make that twist huge.
Hopefully this helps! Any other tips you think would be helpful?