Putting a Twist on a Classic

Wednesday, January 04, 2017
Many years ago, at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC, I had the pleasure of hearing Neil Gaiman speak. He was witty and charming, of course, but he also had some excellent writing tips to share. The most memorable was his response to someone who asked him if he was worried that his novel, The Graveyard Book, was basically The Jungle Book reinvented. Neil Gaiman said he wasn’t worried at all. The story may exist, but he hadn’t told it yet.

The story may exist, but we haven’t told it yet.

These words are important to remember. As writers, it can be difficult to come up with ideas no one has ever developed before. Sometimes we worry that we’re recycling material. That we are – dare I say it – unoriginal.

Ultimately, though, Gaiman was right. As writers, we’d do well to remember we can always retell a story and make it original. We can always make it our own. Just think of all the popular books out there which re-tell stories: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, Donna Jo Napoli’s Bound, or The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. The Percy Jackson series is based on Greek mythology. Even Hillary Jordan’s When She Woke was inspired by The Scarlet Letter.

The point is, there’s nothing wrong with taking stories and putting a twist on them. Maybe part of the idea is borrowed, but the book is still original. YOU still wrote it. The writing is your writing – it carries your style and contains your little writing nuances, which are unique to each author.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling you to plagiarize. But re-imagined stories can lead to new worlds for our readers. So, if you’re stuck for ideas, think about your favorite fairy tale or legend. Maybe it will inspire you to write.

Have you written a book inspired by another story? Feel free to share it in the comments!

Bethany Masone Harar is an author, teacher, and blogger, who does her best to turn reluctant readers into voracious book-reading nerds. Check out her blog here.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Bethany--Your post echoes what I've often heard, that there are no original stories. There are basic plots that have been used and reused for hundreds of years. It is up to us to make them come alive with word choice and images and plot twists.

I am in the middle of a manuscript that tells a historical story... a story that many people have tried to sweep under the rug. How about you? What kind of "recycling" have you done lately?

Beth said...

My first book was about Sirens - based on Greek Mythology and their encounters with Orpheus!

Margo Dill said...

I have heard the same type of advice when I was an English story. Most stories fall into one of these familiar storylines:

Man vs. Nature
Man vs. Himself
Man vs. Man
Man vs. God

I have spent many an English class discussing what falls in where, so I won't bore you with that.

But I LOVE new takes on original stories, and by the number of Cinderella tales out there, I would say I'm not alone. :)

Renee Roberson said...


This brings to mind that "Dorothy Must Die" YA series, a retelling of the characters from The Wizard of Oz. I haven't really written anything inspired from another story, but I love the idea! I say you take your inspiration wherever you can get it :-)

Mary Horner said...

I gotten story ideas from newspaper articles because fact is (sometimes) stranger than fiction!

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