A retelling takes any pre-established story with tropes, topics, and themes. Anything that is relatively well known, such as a classic, a true story, or a fairy tale, makes a story unique and then alters it to present it into a new genre. That is still the same core story but has added new elements that make it a familiar yet different experience.
Retellings are a type of story that is somewhat divisive. Many people adore them, and many despise them. Both of those feelings are valid. But when you talk to people who dislike retellings, the major complaint is that they are ripping off a pre-established story that can be a valid argument. If you want to write a retelling story, stay with me!
How to write a retelling? (Fairytales and others)
Plenty of retellings rip off the original story, add minor changes, and then pass it off as some unique work. They often get away with that because most of those classics and fairy tales are free for the picking.
There’s nobody who’s going to copyright claim you on the story of Cinderella. But that is certainly not a blanket statement for all retellings! So, I have some ideas for you. Follow these 4 tips to write any retellings. Let’s go!
1. Check the copyright
The Copyright Act protects everything from 1923 and beyond. So you can go to the official copyright site and look up what is and is not copyrighted. You first need to research that copyright to see if it is or isn’t a whole story. Then the next thing you need to do is research the other retellings to see if something specific is copyrighted.
If you’re not sure, you can call up the copyright office. You can hire a lawyer and check that way to be safe. So once you establish that, you can do a retelling of the story. Then go ahead and make sure you understand the original story.
- Make sure you know what the original copyrighted version looks like before you start doing a retelling based on another person’s retelling.
2. Add variation
The best thing to do is to inventory all of the variations. There are a ton of Cinderella stories. I would go through and write down every variation that somebody else did so that you at least know what else is out there.
But if many people were doing gender-swapping for Cinderella and didn’t do that well, or they’re not selling that well, then maybe a gender swap for Cinderella isn’t the way to go.
3. Put popular twists
The most popular twists out there. You can put Cinderella in a different time to make it modern. There was another story where they took Cinderella, plucked her from a cartoon, and then put her into real-life present-day New York City. You could do another time warp and put her in medieval times, Arthurian times, or something else.
Another thing is to change the location. So maybe it’s Cinderella in Mt. Fiji or Cinderella in Japan. There are tons of different things to change the settings and various aspects to put a twist of your own on that particular retelling.
4. Create a mashup
People love to see their favorite fairy tale characters working together. So any time you can mashup different fairy tale characters, putting them all together in a new world is excellent for retelling. For creating a mixer or mashup, you must have these elements:
Types of retelling writing
There are three major topics or types of retellings based on how much they take from the original story. There is a different way to make that retelling successful for those different categories.
Loosely based on the original story: The first category of retelling is something that teeters on heavily inspired but is still taking an active stance to be a retelling of a certain story. These stories strip their original works down to their barest forms and choose carefully which elements they’re going to pull into their own story.
Many Cinderella-type stories follow some semblance of the Cinderella story without being actively a clear Cinderella retelling. Suppose you take more aspects of the Cinderella story. In that case, it starts to remind readers of the Cinderella story without actively being a true retelling that follows all of the different plot beats that the original story has.
The category that barely takes anything from its original work is the loosest type of retelling, where the story can go in any direction. It’s not beholden to the original’s plot points, shape, or form. It’s pulling on some familiar aspects to draw you further into the story by giving you something familiar to latch onto.
More actively connected to the original work: The second category increases the number of things that you take from the original work. So if the first category only took major elements or vague notions of specific plot points, this category will adhere to the story’s major plot. It will also have some similarities in theme, pacing, and whatnot.
But it’s usually going to alter something very influential about the story, like the genre, even the overall premise. So if you take the story of Cinderella and then make Cinderella into a cyborg and put her in a futuristic society, that change is not only going to change the character of Cinderella herself. But it’s going to change all of the events that happen to her after that point because you have changed the genre, the setting, and some major plot points of that story.
These stories all take the general idea of a story and turn it on its head to the point where it’s clear that they are trying to retell this story.
Original as possible: This would be a Cinderella story movie franchise. The Cinderella story movies take the original Cinderella fairy tale into a modern setting.
So the previous category will change certain aspects of the story as we know it. Because if you don’t have magic or a fairy godmother or horse-drawn carriages in your retelling, but you have it in your original, you’ll need to find some alternate way to make that make sense.
However, having those changes doesn’t necessarily mean that it will impact what that means for the rest of the story. You put Cinderella into a modern setting doesn’t mean she’s not going to get the prince. There’s a stark difference between something like Cinderella, Marissa Mayer, where the Cinderella story is changed in its period, setting, premise, character, and the topics and themes it’s delving into.
The story remains a retelling, but it is changed much more fundamentally in the second category than in the third, Cinderella but modern. If you research properly, all three of these types of retellings can be successful.
5 reasons to write retellings
I love to write fairy tale retellings for various reasons. As a new writer, you can start your writing with retellings because it will boost your inspiration and make you dynamic. Now, we’re going to dive right into that reason.
I love to write fairy tale retellings because they’re familiar characters in worlds that people already know. Writing fairy tale retellings is fantastic fanfiction for everything in your childhood, which is super fun.
Freedom to change
You get to mess with familiar characters. Even though you loved the story as a kid, it doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t wish things happened differently. You can change whatever you want about those characters and make them your own.
Scope to add variation
You get to open up readers to other stories. There is the Disney version that everybody is familiar with, but there’s also the original version of The Little Mermaid, which has a very different ending and a purpose. For instance, did you know that mermaids didn’t have souls in the original story? They would live for about 300 years, turning into seafoam and disappearing into the universe.
There are many people out there who don’t know the real story. So not only do you get to show readers a different version of the story, but you also get to show them different stories from all around the world. There are a ton of different fairy tales out there that most of us don’t know about.
Ready to go
There’s an established structure and established characters that already exist. When you go into these stories, you know how things are supposed to work. There’s already a plot there for you to work with. You could stick with the original plot and only change a few different things and still develop a compelling story if you wanted to.
As long as you’ve put your own slammed on the characters or the world. You can stay as close or as far away from the original fairy tale as you want, but it’s comforting as an author to go in to have a structure already set up for you. You have archetypes of the characters. So it is a confidence boost for the author to write those stories.
Fairy tale fans are passionate about them, and they want to talk about them. If you ever get the opportunity to interact with fans, that is the biggest compliment an author can ever have. So if you love your fairy tale author, you give them reviews, send them that email and let them know how much you love their stories.
If you’re an author, please include something in the comments and tell me why you like writing fairy tale retellings. If that’s what you do and if you’re a reader, tell me why you love reading them.
Read retelling books to get more ideas:
More reading and writing tips:
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