Finding Inspiration for a Retelling

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Hello, I’m back! I had a nice, relaxing hiatus and I know that you all missed me (you did miss me, didn’t you? Didn’t you?). Anyway, today I’m going to give you guys a few tips about writing a retelling, since it’s no secret that I’m a slight bit obsessed with retellings.

First of all, the question is…How do you write a retelling that stands out from the myriad of other retellings that have been written?

Good question, thank you for asking

Inspiration is everywhere, it really is. And it’s especially rich in the stories and tales that have already been told and have been passed down through generations. A retelling can be inspired by anything—a classic novel, like Oliver Twist or Peter Pan, a myth, like the story of King Midas or Persephone, a historical event, such as World War 1 or The French Revolution, or a fairy tale, such as The Little Mermaid or Cinderella.

However, when looking for a story to retell, there’s a few things you should keep in mind.

The Story Should Be In the Public Domain

 The story should be in the public domain. If you want more information on the public domain, you can do a quick Google search for the definition. The works of Charles Dickens, Jules Verne, The Grimms, Hans Christian Andersen, Jane Austen and a lot of other authors are all in the public domain, which means that you are free to use them.. You need to be careful though, because you could technically get into a lot of legal trouble with, say, Disney, if you used their version of Beauty and the Beast as the basis for your retelling, rather than the original fairy tale.

 

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pictures my own

 

Try Something Different!

Do a Google search for “Fairy tale retellings” and see what comes up. Likely, there’ll be a lot of Cinderella retellings, a plethora of Snow White retellings and about a hundred Beauty and the Beast retellings. Of course, if you’re heart is set on writing one of those, and you think you have something new and original to bring to the age-old tale of Cinderella, go ahead and do it! Make it yours! But what if you chose a lesser known tale or novel to inspire your retelling? Why not try “The Snow Queen” (Disney’s Frozen is actually a retelling of this story), or “The Wild Swans”. You could try Little Dorrit or Bleak House, by Dickens, instead of Oliver Twist

But Not So Different That Its Obscure

On the other hand, your story shouldn’t be too obscure either, so don’t go out of your way to find a really unique Grimm story. Who’s going to care if you market your story as a retelling of The Wishing-Table, the Gold Donkey and the Cudgel-in-the-Sack? You could definitely use the plot as a basis for an original story, but pitching it as retelling is probably not going to work. However, there are some fairy tales that are lesser known than others, but still linger at the edge of our consciences—like Snow White and Rose Red,  or The Six Swans.

 

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Pictures my own

 

The Story Should Make you Say “What if?”

What if is the essence of retellings, it makes you look at an established story and say What if X was different. For example, when I started my Les Mis retelling, the what if was What if Les Miserables took place in the future? Setting the story in the future made me consider how our culture might have changed—if it would have changed—and how that would affect the storyline. When I was plotting a The Wild Swans + Swan Lake retelling, I asked What if an entire ballet company (instead of a bunch of princes) was transformed into swans and the prima ballerina had to change them all back, whilst being half swan herself? When I was plotting a The Little Mermaid + King Arthur retelling I asked, What if Guinevere and the princess who married the prince were the same person?

 

Sorry that today’s post is a bit scattered! It’s always hard for me to get back into the swing of blogging after a hiatus. However! You should, by now, know my opinions on retellings? What are yours? Have you tried to write one? What’s your favourite retelling? How have you been (I’ve missed you all!)?

22 thoughts on “Finding Inspiration for a Retelling

  1. I think you did a really good job of writing this post! I’ve never actually done a retelling but I’ve been thinking about doing one for years. I think that you gave a lot of good pointers in this post! I haven’t read that many retellings but I have especially liked the ones based off of Russian folklore! I’ve thought that they were really unique and fun! I also really love the Lunar Chronicles (though I still haven’t read the last one).
    Welcome back, by the way! 🙂

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  2. Woah! I never really considered most retellings as that creative, but the examples you have are thought-provoking. Especially one about the ballerinas. I might try my hand at a short story retelling sometime soon…

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  3. I love retellings, if they’re done well! Sometimes they do lack in creativity, but I think you can do a whole lot of awesome stuff with them! Yeah, I liked that ballerina one! You’re more than welcome to try it if you want to, the likelihood I ever get around to writing it out is very small! Definitely try it, let me know how you go!
    Thanks for commenting!

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  4. Thanks! I was at the point last night where I had no idea whether I was making sense or not. I’m of the opinion everyone should try at least one retelling in their life 😀 I don’t think I’ve read any Russian folklore retellings, but I should look for some. Oh yeess! The Lunar Chronicles are so good! (I haven’t read the last one either!)
    Thanks very much!

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  5. This was a really good post Chel!! You really can do retellings in such a creative way, some stories can be so over used but they can be so interesting, your ‘what if’ question is great – I love that sound of the swan one, I’d personally love to do a Swan Lake retelling as I love the story and your take on it is so so interesting.

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  6. I love retellings! I have always wanted to write one, but I haven’t struck upon the perfect story yet. I did start a retelling of the twelve dancing princesses once, but I didn’t get terribly far.
    I think that your list here is extremely helpful. It is so true that some stories have been retold thousands of times and others are somewhat neglected, and I would prefer to find one that has not been done as frequently. I feel that way about historical fiction as well. Even though there are countless stories to be told about WWII and the American Revolution, I want to take a historical event that has not been revisited quite so often and craft a story from it. That is, I would want to do that if I had any actual motivation to research…which, I don’t.
    Anyway. This is a fantastic post!

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  7. I love the ‘what if’ part of writing retellings. Like “What if the fairy godmother was actually a secret agent who’d been stalking cinderella?” Because WHO DOESN’T LIKE BRAINSTORMING ALL THE CRAZY POSSIBILITIES. XD

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  8. Great tips! Especially the one about making sure the original fairy tale/story is public domain (which had never occurred to me, haha!) Your Les Mis retelling sounds amazing and unique! If I could try my hand at any retelling, it would definitely be Swan Lake. 🙂

    Oh, and I tagged you for a book/TV show tag over on my blog, if you’re interested!

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  9. Thanks! Yeah, the story being in the public domain is super important, especially if you’re looking at getting your retelling published! Swan Lake would be so cool! I’ve never got around to it though 😀
    Thanks, I saw that and I’m planning on doing it today!

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  10. (A retellings post! yay! :D)

    Normally I think of retellings of fairytales, but I’d love to see a good Persephone retelling! Or a historical event mixed with a fairytale – or a classic novel mixed with a fairytale? There are so many possibilities!

    You make a good point about not retelling Disney, too – I’m pretty sure I’ve seen some retellings with elements that are specifically Disney creations. (Like Beauty wearing yellow, or being called Belle – those are both Disney, right? [or am I wrong and need to re-read the originals – in the name of research and facts, of course?])
    Jem Jones

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  11. I was just reading on your blog last night about your B&B retelling and it sounds SO GOOD. (Let me know when you need a beta).
    You’ve heard of Nadine Brandes haven’t you? (If you haven’t, well…) Her book coming out later in the year is a historical/fantasy retelling of the Fawkes gunpowder plot. I’ve done the classic novel/fairy tale one! It’s a lot of fun. (And I’ve never seen a Persephone retelling, though I’m sure some exist, so go and write one, if you want to!)
    So, so many retellings do it! Technically, Disney could sue them, but they probably have bigger things to worry about than average authors stealing their plots 😀 In the Disney one though, she’s just called Belle because the story is French, and Belle is French for beauty, so you could probably get away with using that if you wanted to, I don’t know.
    Thanks for commenting!

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  12. Thank you, Sarah! You’re so sweet 😀 I love the Swan Lake idea too, but I’ve never got around to writing it 🙂 Maybe I will one day though. Thank you for commenting ;D

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  13. There’s so many possibilities though! Keep looking! A twelve dancing princesses retelling sounds good, I’ve never read one (or the original) though.
    You’re right! There’s so many stories and historical periods that are so overlooked! One of my novellas is about a soldier on the English homefront and the shellshock hospitals and that was really interesting to research, because it’s an overlooked aspect of the First World War. Haha, I actually really like doing the research.
    By the way, I tagged you for a taggy thing in my latest post, and I’d love to see you do it, if you’d like to!
    Thanks for commenting!

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  14. I actually have some Fawkes bookmarks from Nadine Brandes, which is super-dooper-exciting!! (I’ve been meaning to rave about them on my blog… haven’t yet, but I will!)

    And I’m glad to hear you like the sound of my retelling! 😀

    (Of course Belle is French for Beauty, though… *slaps self*)

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  15. Yes, there is such a wealth of material out there, if I could only figure out how to tap into it. I admire your love of research. It is one of those things that I wish I loved doing…but I don’t. Not that I can’t teach myself to do it anyway! Who knows? I may learn to love it if I keep pushing my self in that direction.
    Ooh, a taggy thing! I will check that out post-haste!

    Liked by 1 person

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