Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Art of Retelling

Yesterday, I watched a movie I've been meaning to watch for some time: 10 Things I Hate About You. (I warned you, I've got movies on the brain.) I'd figured for a while that I'd like it, since I loved Taming of the Shrew. And, I can't deny, I loved it. I loved the soundtrack, which was perfectly suited to the movie -- and composed of music I really liked. I loved the costumes, partly because I've always wanted to be able to pull off some of those looks, and because I actually dressed rather like the shrew. Most of all, I loved the script. Kate and I have the same sense of humor. :D If you liked watching Kate the cursed verbally spar in Shakespeare's classic, then you'll appreciate some of Cat's lines in the movie.

The joyful aspect of this is that they updated the story to a certain extent. While the premise remained, those aspects that couldn't be swung in a modern setting (ie: the marriage, his keeping her up all night and denying her food, etc) were altered. It maintained the good parts while altering to keep the story fresh.

I like retold stories. I like seeing how someone can take something that should be familiar to the reader and turns it around to make it new and original. Sometimes half the fun is seeing how the author will handle certain aspects of the story in regards to how things have been shifted. It's like vintage clothing pieces. Wearing too many at once makes you look like you're in costume, but wearing a few makes an interesting combination. Or cutting a dress from a 1950s pattern. If it's in Mamie pink, it's expected. If it's in black and paired with modern punk accessories, you've turned the original concept on its head and made it unique again.

The key to an interesting retelling is the surprise factor. The alterations are the unexpected part, after all. If, say, at the end of your telling of Cinderella, in which the shoe is replaced by an iPod, and the prince, who you've replaced with the student body president, is looking for a girl who loves indie music with female singers, then maybe he gets the band at prom to play the music to see which girl gets really into it. Maybe two completely different girls both start dancing in front of the speakers and he has to choose which one he thinks is his girl. The key is to take the expected aspects of the story, the ones that would make it cliched, and to change those.

Do you like retellings in books and movies? What's your favorite?


  1. I LOVE retellings and I LOVE 10 Things I Hate About You. Our first novel (the one that will never, ever see the light of day) was actually a retelling of Pride and Prejudice. The one thing we learned about actually writing retelling is that you can't be afraid to change the plot/characters to make the story work. I think our biggest mistake was staying too true to the Jane Austen version. It just didn't work in a modern setting.

  2. LnL -- I think the fact that some things do not work in a modern setting is what makes the retelling unique and gives it flavor. Maybe the Pride and Prejudice idea could be reworked a bit to be more in keeping with the times. I wouldn't give up on it yet.