Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tale Spin

No, I'm not talking about the AWESOME!!! 90's Disney cartoon featuring characters from the Jungle Book.

Man, I loved that show :)

I'm talking about spinning tales.

They say that every story's been told. But we're still telling stories. Not the same stories. We're taking old tales, and giving them a new spin. With that in mind, it's an avenue that we can use to get ideas.

In the last 10 or 20 years, there've beena whole stack of fairy tale remakes. Make Cinderella a strong-minded, outspoken girl and you get Ella, Enchanted or Ever After. Switch the Capulets and Montagues out for Hispanic and White street gangs, and you've got West Side Story.

Did you watch Robin Hood: Men in Tights? Okay, so it was a comedy, but the point is that by taking a classic and putting it in a different genre, you earn a whole new group of fans. Transpose a tale into Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Western, Thriller, Horror, etc, and you've got a whole new story.

Cinderella's been re-done a million times, and if you're going to remake this particular classic you need to come original. One solution to avoid the competition is to base your story on a lesser known tale. Rick Riordan's THE RED PYRAMID is based on Egyptian Gods, and Karsten Knight's upcoming WILDEFIRE is based on Polynesian deities. These stories and characters) are obscure enough that you could probably recreate them exactly as they were originally, and noone would even object.

On the same note, there are stories you could easily pull from other cultures. Mainstream Western culture has heard certain American and European stories a million times. Growing up in the Caribbean, and living in Japan, I have access to different monsters, mythological beings, paranormal occurences. Stories which everyone knows here in Japan, can be obscure in the West, and if I were more of a fantasy writer, I'd probably use them a lot.

Fairy Tale retellings will often switch something up fairly drastically. Part of this is because the audience doesn't want the same old story. Another part is because things the were fine back in the day, would totally not fly now.

For example, one of the most common tropes is girl power. Traditionally, the female fairy tale roles were rather passive: Sleeping Beauty just slept, Snow White waited to be rescued, Cinderella essentially gave up and if the Prince hadn't come looking she'd have died of consumption while taking care of her step-sisters' kids. These days you've got the outspoken Ella of ELLA, ENCHANTED and Danielle of EVER AFTER and FIONA, the I-will-kick-your-butt-from-here-to-Zombieland in Shrek.

You could also flip the story. In the original Princess and the Frog, the Princess kisses the frog and he turns back into a Prince. In Disney's version they both end up frogs.

And there are tons of other ways you can flip the plots or characters.

You don't need to use a whole story. As in Disney's Tale Spin and Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series, you can populate your new story with old characters. Say Cinderella's all happily installed in the palace, and then a talking fish tells her that Prince Charming got kidnapped.

A note of caution: If you're going to go this route, then you'll probably need to use characters who've gone out of copyright. Copyright is not on an idea, but it's representation. So all the paragraphs in Twilight are copyrighted, but if you completely rewrote it with the competing love interests being a mummy and a zombie, besides being hilarious, it would probably be completely legal. If you took up Edward, Jacob and Bella, gave them all the same names, traits and characteristics, and sent them off to pull off a diamond heist, that would be bad ju-ju.
Start with something familiar and add a twist. Here's an example:

Everyone's fairly familiar with Greek and Roman Gods. And most people know they are mirrors of one another. But what if the Roman and Greek Gods decided to duke it out for control of the world?

(Part of me is kind of tempted to right this book...)

Do you use threads from existing stories to build your own? How do you take an old story, and make your mark on it?


E.J. Wesley said...

Man! That video took me back 20 years!

Great post, too!


Marsha Sigman said...

LOVE this! In my last ms, that I will eventually go back to and rework a little, has a few fairy tale characters in it. All now in the public domain so fair game but you'd barely recognize

It was so much fun.

Claire Dawn said...

E.J, I'm not even going to pretend I haven't listened to this song 79 times for the day. lol.

Marsha, thanks. I think Fairy Tale characters rock!

L.G.Smith said...

I have a Snow White story, but it's been changed up significantly. No dwarves, no girl needing rescuing (well, only a little), and it is the king's son who is encased in a glass coffin. The wicked characters in fairy tales are so much fun to write, too. Good post. :)

Marquita Hockaday said...

I think re-tellings are pretty awesome :) I think L.G.'s story sounds EXCELLENT- something I would love to read. This is a great post.

Clarissa Draper said...

I do it a lot in my mysteries. I'm sure every murder has been done but maybe not in the way it's portrayed in different books by different personalities. Great post, Claire.