Tuesday, July 29, 2014

On Retellings: A Guest Post by Jessica Lawson

I'm happy to welcome Jessica Lawson, author of The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher to my blog today!  She's planning to tell us more about retellings and some rules to follow if you plan to write one!
Rules for Retellings/Reimaginings
Recycled stories are popular nowadays (just take a look at this epic chart of 162 YA retellings). Authors vary widely in their approach, from Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted (a take on the Cinderella fairy tale) to Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (which is pretty much what the title implies—a zombie-fied version of Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice). My own debut middle grade novel, The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher, is a retelling/origin story mix, with old/new characters blending with old/new plot elements…and with the original tale’s author (a young Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain) thrown in as a happenstance observer.
All this to say, there are lots of ways to go about creating a new version of something that’s already been written. Fiction, by nature, is open to interpretation and there aren’t too many true instances of “you can never do that!” Still, if you’re thinking of writing your own story based on an already-established tale, there are a few things that you may want to keep in mind:

Three Rules for Retellings/Reimaginings
1. First, you should love the original work as written and have respect for the author. Basically, retell the story because you love it, not because you loathe it. In my opinion, a retelling shouldn’t be undertaken in order to “fix” something that the original author did wrong, but rather to bring fresh attention and a new perspective to a well-loved tale.

I love Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer exactly as written. I love the story so much that I found myself thinking of its characters often, and eventually that emotional closeness to the story prompted me to revisit the world I loved so well.

2. There must be at least one large twist. But the twist should be a playful/thoughtful/deliberate one that has meaning within the original elements, not just a random item. In the words of Mark Twain, “know the facts and then distort them as you please.” Know why you’re changing a key element of the story and be confident in your reasoning. A version of Charlotte’s Web in space? That’s fine! But you need to be able to justify the twist being necessary in order to bring something new to the context of the original. Utilize the twist to strengthen your version of the story and let it inform your plot and characters. Choose your twist deliberately and with attention to the plot/characters of the original.

3. Keep the heart of the original in mind and try your best to honor it. Even if you’re retelling Cinderella to make the wicked stepmother character the heroine and her stepdaughter a horrible conniving brat, the basic idea is the same—one person is unfairly treated and must find their own journey to happily-ever-after, while the baddie gets punished.

While my own retelling of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer alters personalities and changes plot elements, the themes of learning what it means to grow up and struggling with losing pieces of childhood are still there and are recognizable.

Happy writing and reading! And if you haven’t read a retelling lately, my blog hostess Melissa’s own Classic Double Challenge is a wonderful way to get motivated.

Thank you so much, Melissa!

Jessica Lawson’s debut middle grade novel, The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher is available now. You can visit her at http://jessicalawsonbooks.com and on twitter

Thanks for the post, Jessica!  I've always wanted to write a retelling and now I have some lovely guidelines (for if I eeeeever get around to it).  You can check out my review of Jessica's book, The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher

If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage


  1. Thank you so much for letting me share a post! And I love that you added all of the book covers~ they look great :)

    1. Thanks for doing a guest post on my blog! It was fun.


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