Writer’s Craft #5 – Does it matter if it has been done before?
This week’s guest blogger is Theresa Crater (http://theresacrater.com/) , author of Under the Stone Paw and Beneath the Hallowed Hill (coming in April 2011), reporting on a panel she took part in. Theresa writes:
Does it matter if it’s been done before? That was the name of a panel I had the pleasure of moderating last weekend at COSine, Colorado Springs’ con. The writers included Carol Berg, Ed Bryant, John Stith and Sarah Hoyt.
Not all great writers created original stories. Shakespeare borrowed from Ovid and Belleforest, among others. Then Forbidden Planet stole from him. Each generation seems to need to retell certain stories. How many versions of A Christmas Carol have you seen? Who’s your favorite Sherlock Holmes? Guest of Honor Sharon Shinn said that Jenna Starborn could definitely be read as a rewrite of Jane Eyre. Why do we retell stories? Everyone agreed comfort is a big part. We enjoy a story. Retelling it in a new way, at a new time, delights us.
What works in retelling a story, and when doesn’t it work. Carol Berg talked about story patterns and myths, how people retell types of stories over and over, but the important thing is originality. Bring your own voice or twist. John Stith agreed, citing more examples.
Ed Bryant talked about “angle of approach.” Tell the story from a different character’s perspective, like the wicked witch in Wicked. My favorite rewrite of Jane Eyre is told from the madwoman in the attic’s point of view in Wide Sargasso Sea.
One event that contributed to forming this panel came from a writing contest judged by an top international writer. The story he critiqued was well written, the writing promising. But would it get published? Unfortunately, the story had been done before. When told this, what was the writer’s response? Something like, “Nobody reads that old stuff anymore.”
All the writers agreed that it’s important to read your genre, especially your subgenre. Know the history. Ed Bryant pointed out that some people only read back a decade, others twenty years, some one hundred, and others five hundred. Sarah Hoyt thought that in YA, this isn’t so important. Children and young people can’t be expected to have read the canon. But writers? Definitely.
Please comment on stories are you conscious of retelling in your own work, and how you make them new.
E-mail your ideas for future articles to me at firstname.lastname@example.org either as a question to be illustrated by myself or with your own example. Please include CLARION in the subject of the e-mail. Thanks for taking part!