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From Gregory McGuire’s beloved Wicked to Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty Quartet to countless reimaginings of Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella, retellings are a perennial hot subject for writers. In this class, editor JoSelle Vanderhooft (also an author of numerous fairy tale retellings in prose and poetry) will teach you why readers and writers crave reimagining these stories again and again, what kinds of stories make the best retellings, and how to make your favorite classic story uniquely your own. The goal of this course is to give students a rough outline for a retelling of their own.
1. We’ll discuss what stories an author can retell (basically anything published pre-1929 though there may be some exceptions. I’ll have to research this, but US copyright laws are pretty byzantine), popular retellings, and the merits of retelling a more popular story vs. a less well-known one (for example, Little Red Riding Hood vs. a more obscure fairy tale, such as Fitcher’s Bird from the Grimm Fairy Tales).
2. We’ll talk about cultural appropriation, which I don’t think can—or should—be ignored these days. We’ll talk about why retelling a story from Arabian Knights or the Ramayana, for example, should be something approached with respect for cultural traditions, with historical research and knowledge, and with the understanding that no matter how carefully researched, retelling a story from a culture that is not your own may cause offense, or even help to perpetuate racism, however unintentional on the writer’s part.
3. What makes a good retelling? Finding new meaning in the story. Each retelling starts, I think, with something specific about a story drawing a reader. I’ll discuss my novels The Tale of the Miller’s Daughter and Ebenezer,which retell Rumpelstiltskin and A Christmas Carol, respectively, and what details of both stories drew me to them.
Homework: I’ll then ask students to tell me what story (or stories) draw them and what detail(s) they specifically find fascinating and to write those reasons down for discussion.
Week two: Flipping the story.
1. Retellings needn’t be complete imaginings, but they’ve got to expose something new about the story or look at it in a new way. I’ll mention a few examples here and discuss a few ideas/a few approaches that other authors have used, including the stable of Jane Austen retellings.)
2. We’ll look at five ways we can twist a story: character, plot, theme, time period, and place, and how each of these changes a story.
Homework: Students will take the info from this week and work on fleshing out last week’s homework.
Week Three: Detail work
1. Often retellings are at their best when they include fine detail work, which further adds to the story and gives the reader reason to feel as though they aren’t just being told the same thing with a few names or places changed.
2. We’ll talk about world building, including historical research for historical retellings (e.g. the Taming of the Shrew set in 13th Century England rather than 15th Century Italy). Since I’m assuming most people in this class will want to do retellings with romantic elements if not full-blown romances, we’ll talk about how to fit romance in too.
3. We’ll also talk about how detail work functions for contemporary retellings (basically 2000 on up) and fantasy/SF settings.
Week Four: Creating an outline
This is basically all of us working together, and me doing individual work, to help authors draft an outline and/or synopsis to work from, using all the knowledge they’ve gained.