Write Tip: 5 Tricks To Adapting A Well Known Story For Fiction

It’s been done. All too many times, if you listen to some. The story is world famous, well known. Many know its details by heart. Yet it’s compelling and you have an idea you know is different—one no one’s done before. So how do you keep it fresh? Adapting a well-known story for fiction has many challenges, but above them all is the issue of freshness, avoiding predictability.

There are some techniques which work well to invigorate the retelling:

1)      Use the original story as character history/backstory so the parallels are interesting but you don’t have to follow it to the letter—In The Worker Prince, my debut novel, because my characters are colonists to space from Earth and Protestants, they share the religious history of Christianity so the Moses story, which inspired mine, is prehistory. Some parallels from that story occur, when a prince discovers he was born a slave and helps the slaves fight for freedom, for example. But having established that as prehistory, I was able to depart quite a bit from biblical elements like the plagues, miracles, and parting of the Red Sea to tell a different, although familiar story. The inspiration remains the same but the story takes new and interesting twists.

2)      Change the timeline (order)– What if the events are the same but they don’t happen in the same order? Sometimes the order of events is not vital to the story and you can make new twists and turns just be changing the order of events and, thus, how those various events affect each other. It can lead to new conflicts and new undercurrents which didn’t exist in the original story and make it more interesting for those familiar with the story on which yours is based.
3)      Identify the core elements and throw away less important ones—In The Worker Prince I did exactly this: keeping the idea of one people enslaving another under a ruthless dictator, a prince secretly adopted from slaves, ideological conflict, and injustice but dumping things like the Red Sea, years of exile in a desert, plagues, etc. It kept the story familiar and grounded in the tropes of the original while allowing me to take it in totally different and surprising directions. Some scenes and events are vital for the story to remain familiar. The same can be said of key characters. Others can be thrown away or reinvented to keep things original and unique in your telling.

4)      Reverse roles, species or genders of characters—What if your hero in the original story was male but in your story becomes female? What if a human character becomes alien or animal? What about a robot? What about other characters? Can your sidekick become the love interest? What if your antagonist becomes a relative instead of  a social acquaintance? What if the characters take on bigger roles and multiple functions they didn’t have in the original? The differences between genders, species, etc. can then be exploited for new aspects of your story and new twists and turns different from the original in fun ways.

5)      Change the setting—Setting your story in a culture and context far removed from the original can provide interesting opportunities. I set The Worker Prince in distant space far from Earth with different aliens and plant species, etc. It allowed me to have technology and related problems totally foreign to the original Moses story and made for a more fun and interesting telling for me as storyteller and for readers. The same can be true of resetting the story in a different decade or era from the one in which it originally occurred. Imagine, if you will, a steampunk Cinderella or Sherlock Holmes in the 24th Century. All kinds of possibilities present themselves.

All of these suggestions are about making the story your own. If you can find ways to do that, you can create a fresh experience and telling while utilizing powerful elements of the familiarity and themes of the original story. Grounding your story in a well-known tale, definitely has advantages.  But a little creative rethinking can make it even more powerful and draw in an audience of people it might not otherwise appeal to. It’s fun to work from a familiar foundation and structure. Especially if you love the story, it can stimulate the imagination. But if everyone knows the twists and turns and outcome of your story, why should they want to read it? I hope these suggestions give you ideas how the old can become  new and fresh in the retelling.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince—which received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Best Science Fiction Releases of 2011—and The Returning, both from the space opera series Saga Of Davi Rhii. He also wrote the collection The North Star Serial, and short stories published in Tales Of The Talisman and the anthologies Of Fur And Fire and Wandering Weeds: Tales Of Rabid Vegetation, amongst others. A freelance professional editor and proofreader, he’s edited books for authors like Leon C. Metz, David Brown and Ellen C. Maze. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Twitter (#sffwrtcht), where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, A.C. Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website: www.bryanthomasschmidt.net. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

‎3 5-star & 8 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Write Tip: Cat Rambo’s Developmental Editing Checklist

One way to be sure your manuscript is ready to submit is to make sure you get a good developmental edit. Now unless you’re making a lot of money already, paying someone may be out of the question. Most submissions editors will reject anything that’s not at least ninety percent there. They do line edits, proofing and fact checks, not developmental edits. So the onus is on you. If you’re like me, being close to your work, can prevent you from not only knowing what questions to ask but having the objectivity needed to view your work well. Some sort of guide would make a big difference.

In her Editing Basics class, Author-Editor Cat Rambo (Fantasy Magazine) offers the following checklist for doing a good multi-pass Developmental Edit yourself. Cat suggests a multi-pass approach to allow yourself to address various aspects one at a time instead of trying to catch-all in one pass. The checklist is broken out by pass type. But before you begin the checklist, ask yourself the following questions:

1) What works and what doesn’t overall? (Make a list)

2) What is the story? Can you sum it up in a few sentences? If not, there’s a problem.

3) Look at the first and last page. Do they hook the readers in 13 lines or less? Does the story end strong?

 

Once you’ve addressed these basics, you’re ready for the more detailed Developmental edits. Be sure and ask questions down to a scene level, not just about the whole manuscript.

 

Character Pass:

1) Are the characters likeable?

2) Are the characters acting or reacting?

3) Can readers identify with the characters?

4) Does the reader know what the character wants?

5) Are there too many characters? Can any be combined?

6) What are the missed opportunities?

7) Where don’t we understand what the character is doing?

8 ) Where can we go deeper into the character’s head?

9) Is the dialogue interesting and informative of character?

10)  Can the reader put themselves inside the story?

 

Story Pass:

1) Is the ending set up in a satisfying way? Is it the result of character actions?

2) Does the story make sense or are pieces missing?

3) How does the story move? (Is pacing good?)

4) Should pieces be removed? (And what should be done with them?)

5) What are the secondary story lines and are they delivered on?

 

World Pass:

1) Is the world clear?

2) Does it feel generic? (Is it?)

3) Does it make sense?

4) How important is the science of it?

5) Where should we know more?

6) Are the facts right? (Light fact-checking)

7) Where can the world come forward more?

8 ) How are things ordered? Point A to Point B? Or more like Momento or Pulp Fiction?

9) How hard does it make things for the reader and is the effect achieved worth it? (Because if it’s not there for effect, it’s pointless.)

10) How can it be improved overall?

11) Are the conventions consistent?

12) Where are the info dumps and what strategies surround them?

 

Chapter Level:

1) Do the chapters make sense structurally?

2) Does something happen over the course of each chapter?

3) Does the POV change over the course of the chapter? (Should it?)

4) Is the Prologue or Epilogue necessary?

5) Is head hopping an issue?

6) How do you make the book match conventions?

 

Making these four Developmental Editing passes enables you to focus on specific aspects of your manuscript and strengthen them each in turn. You can be sure you’ll cover other aspects in other passes and thus free yourself to really focus in.  I hope this helps you improve your editing strategies not just for your own work but in helping others.  What are the questions and approaches you use to self-edit? I’d love to have you share them in comments. And if the checklist still isn’t enough, consider taking one of Cat’s fine classes. They are well worth the money and the time.

For what it’s worth…


John Barth described Cat Rambo’s writings as “works of urban mythopoeia” — her stories take place in a universe where chickens aid the lovelorn, Death is just another face on the train, and Bigfoot gives interviews to the media on a daily basis. She has worked as a programmer-writer for Microsoft and a Tarot card reader, professions which, she claims, both involve a certain combination of technical knowledge and willingness to go with the flow. In 2005 she attended the Clarion West Writers’ Workshop. Among the places in which her stories have appeared are ASIMOV’S, WEIRD TALES, CLARKESWORLD, and STRANGE HORIZONS, and her work has consistently garnered mentions and appearances in year’s best of anthologies. Her collection, EYES LIKE SKY AND COAL AND MOONLIGHT was an Endeavour Award finalist in 2010 and followed her collaboration with Jeff VanderMeer, THE SURGEON’S TALE AND OTHER STORIES.

She has edited anthologies as well as critically-acclaimed Fantasy Magazine, is a board member of feminist science fiction group Broad Universe, a member of the Codex Writers’ Group, and volunteers with Clarion West.

Although no longer actively involved with the game, she is one of the minds behindArmageddon MUD, the oldest roleplay-intensive MUD (an interactive text-based game) on the Internet, which has been described as “like no other mud I have played before“, “the most entertaining game I’ve ever played“, “the most creative, emotionally involved mud on the Net” and “a place of astonishing beauty and detail“. She continues to do some game writing as well as technology journalism and reviews for Publishers Weekly.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.