Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Retelling stories

by Chasya

One of the many galleys being distributed at BEA this year was the much-hyped Juliet by Anne Fortier, a retelling of Romeo and Juliet. I was skeptical. Really, I thought, how many times have we seen this done? I mean, I can’t go anywhere without staring at Amanda Seyfried’s face on either a poster or trailer for the film Letters to Juliet. Jim alluded to this in his post about knock-off queries, and I also can’t but help but wonder, can’t writers and artists think of something original for a change? (Harsh, I know.)

And then I stumbled on Cory Doctorow’s list of Pulitzer-winning works that came into existence by doing something similar—riffing off of something that already existed.  I always knew that Rent, which is on the list, was a retelling of La Boheme (and for someone who’s not crazy about musicals, I’m crazy about Rent) but I didn’t really know there were so many others in this category that received the illustrious Pulitzer Prize.

Doctorow categorizes these award-winners as fanfic, and, as he says, provides the list “as a service to writers who believe that fanfic is ‘immoral, illegal, plagiarism, cheating, for people who are too stupid/lazy/unimaginative to write stories of their own.’”

Though I’ve never felt terribly offended by fan fiction, I’m no longer feeling the cynicism that tickled the back of my brain when I first read about Fortier’s new book.

What about you, readers? For you skeptics, has this article affected you? Are you willing to give these reboots another chance?


  1. I love a new spin on an old story. As long as it's not too obvious what's going to happen, and the characters are well-formed, I don't care that it isn't the most original thing in the world.

    You DID see Avatar, right? ;)

  2. I'm not a fan of taking published work, twisting one part, then releasing it as new. Why not just come up with new characters?

  3. I loved Peter and The Starcatchers- the story of how Peter Pan came to be, well, Peter Pan. Not so excited about the new Robin Hood. It all depends on the delivery.

  4. I think it can be a gamble - but many of those gambles have paid off. Wicked is hugely successful. And though I didn't like Ash, a very different re-telling of Cinderella, it has had fabulous reviews. Like with all literature, there are hits and misses.

  5. I'm torn. I understand being so in love with the original story you want to retell it your way, but so many times it ends up being a mistake, you only please yourself.

    Once in awhile though, the author does succeed and adds real depth to the characters and creates a believable backstory that really enhances the original story. I'm hoping that's what Juliet is, but I'm not holding my breath quite yet.

  6. It's been said many times before that there is nothing original, and I think to a large extent that's true. Even original stories borrow elements from various older stories, and they succeed because they combine those elements in new ways or disguise them so well that it's not immediately obvious.

    Reboots, or obvious retellings, can be hit or miss. When they do succeed, they're awesome, IMO. There has to be something fresh and different enough to make it worth reading. (I think this is why retellings from the villain's point of view are popular. Like Dawn said, WICKED was hugely successful because nobody had any reason to see the Wicked Witch sympathetically before it came out.)

  7. I am an admitted lover of fanfiction. If it weren't for reading XFiles fanfic, I'd have never started writing.

    While my characters are my own now, I do borrow traits from some of my favorite characters.

    I even enjoy reading fanfiction of fandoms I've never read/watched. For instance, Firefly and Stargate Atlantis. I read the fanfic before I ever saw an episode. One drives the other.

    Would I read Juliet? Hmmm...not sure. I wasn't a big fan of Romeo and Juliet as it was force-fed to me my freshman year of highschool. But give me a re-telling of King Arthur and I'd give it a go. Heck, that sparks some ideas right there.

  8. I don't know. I think if you go on to the LJ post the BoingBoing mention links to... the original poster there is using an awfully broad definition of what constitutes "fanfic" and I'm not sure the definition holds up. Is making fun of Sarah Palin on SNL "fanfic"? I'm unconvinced, but I'm also not sure where to put the line between retelling and fanfic, and whether something like historical fiction - which the LJ poster considers fanfic - is on that same continuum or not. It's an interesting question, though.

  9. I think ultimately, it comes down to whether or not the story is good. A prime example is Finn: A Novel by Jon Clinch. I love the idea of retelling a tale from the POV of another character, especially when it's an antagonist from the original.

    Anyway, my two cents.

  10. Melina has a good point. Rent and West Side Story aren't true fanfic. The characters are different, the names, locations, etc. They re-work the same themes and update them to make them relavent today.

    Fanfiction takes the same characters, but perhaps tells the story from a minor character's pov, or takes the character to places the original couldn't or wouldn't go. A good example is Wicked. It is fanfiction, pure and simple. The characters are the same but a different character is the main character.

  11. Redos can be awful or amazing. It's black and white. They either ruin the story or give it a whole new side. If you're sick of authors doing remakes, check out movies lately. Nothing new! But I will usually give them a chance because hopefully that author added their own imagination and turned over a new side of the story.

  12. I'd read Juliet. In fact I might just keep my eye open for it now. I quite like retellings. It's all in the telling isn't it? I mean we've heard time and time again that there are no new stories so really these retellings are just being a bit more upfront about their sources! I don't think a retelling is the same as fanfic. Like Mary McDonald pointed out you could hardly call west side story fanfic right? It has it's own merits. As long as Juliet has it's own merits too then I wouldn't have any problem with it and would probably enjoy it as I think the basic themes of the Juliet story are fascinating. Obsessive love and suicide? Count me in!

  13. I have to admit, I personally love retellings, if they're done originally. I mean, if you're just going to rehash the same story in the same way, then it's boring and it's lazy. But if you do something creative and fun with it, I think it can be amazing.

    I recently read and liked Alex Flinn's BEASTLY, which is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. And I'm looking forward to reading Jackson Pearce's SISTERS RED.

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