Seven Tips To Make An Old Story New – Advice From Marissa Meyer

2 May

cinderSome say, there are no stories left untold, that all original ideas are already taken, and that all new novels are just old stories regurgitated.  If that’s true, then what would be the point of buying new books?  Whatever the reason for recurring themes or ideas, writers are always finding ways to break the boundaries.

But what about using past stories to our advantage?  Lately, there has been an influx of novels hitting the shelves that retell an old story in a new way.

I’ve recently discovered The Lunar Chronicles (Yeah, I know.  I’m a little late to the party).  Growing up, I loved the story of Cinderella, so when I picked up Marissa Meyer’s novel, Cinder, I thought she had some pretty big slippers to fill (heh, see what I did there?).

Here’s what Marissa Meyer has to say about re-creating old stories:

“I think the most important part (like writing ANY story, not just retellings), is to find the idea that you’re most passionate about, the idea you can’t get out of your head. Maybe you only want to change one small element of a known story, or maybe you want to entirely revamp it. Either way, do what’s calling to you, because I do believe the only way to write a good story is to write the story you’re in love with.”

Thank you for taking the time to share your advice with us Marissa.

So how can you breathe new life into an old story or fairytale and still make it your own?

1.  Modern Characters

Today, characterization trumps all.  Well, you still need a good plot, but what did we really know about Cinderella, besides the fact that she wanted a better life?  What were her quirks, her bad habits, her fears?  And surely she must have had some negative thoughts about her mean sisters.  In Marissa’s adaptation, we are drawn into Cinder’s world through the eyes of a character we can associate with, a fighter, an independent thinker, someone with imperfections like each of us, not to mention you can’t get any more modern than a cyborg!  Make your characters relatable to those of us in the 21st century.

2.  Innovative Settings

This is the quickest and most obvious way to put a twist into the story.  Instead of a castle, make it a military base.  Instead of a windowless tower, make it an orphanage.  Instead of a dragon’s den, make it a casino.

3.  New-Age Obstacles

We may not have armoured knights, witches, and dragons to deal with today, but we do have security guards, mean girls, and street gangs.  Or create your own original sources of conflict and hinderances specific to your character and their world, whether it’s an physical barrier or perhaps a social, political or emotional one.

4.  Alternate Point Of View

Is there an unsung hero somewhere in the fairytale?  A character even more interesting than the princess or prince charming?  An overshadowed sidekick?  Imagine the stories they could tell.

5.  Unhappily Ever After

What if things didn’t work out they way they were supposed to?  Turn the story on it’s head.  Perhaps the miller’s daughter actually fell in love with Rumpelstiltskin, or Sleeping Beauty’s prince charming ran away with her sister.  What if a shallow beauty becomes the beast in the end to let go of society’s idea of beautiful?  Okay, these are just examples of new happy endings.  Can you find a new direction for your story?  One that will keep your readers guessing until the very end?

6.  Everyone Loves A Bad Boy

What if the evildoer in the old story is actually the misunderstood good guy or the new hero of the tale?  On the other hand, can the good guy be the real troublemaker?  Maybe Jack was the bully picking on the peace-loving giants who just wanted to be left alone.

7.  Distance Yourself

You’re writing the story because it inspires you, because like Marissa says, you’re in love with it.  But that doesn’t mean you need to copy the story right to the letter.  In fact, deviate from that story as much as you possibly can.  To do this, discover what really inspired you in the first place and focus on that.  Was it the underlying message, the world, the theme, the romance?

So is there a story you grew up reading a million times?  One that speaks to you?  Well if you just can’t get it out of your head, maybe it’s time to get it down on paper.  But don’t think of it as someone else’s story, an old fairytale that everyone knows.  Start thinking of it as your story, take ownership of it and don’t let that old tale hold back your new one.


Haven’t started reading The Lunar Chronicles yet?  WIN a copy of both CINDER and SCARLET.  TO ENTER:  In the comments below, share a tip on how to remain original and fresh when creating any new story.

The draw will be held on May 14th, and I will be using to help choose the winner and to keep things fair.

Check out this week’s other inspiring blogs and enter your own by viewing this linky tools list.

A weekly blog hop where writers share their inspirations. Please join us!

A weekly blog hop where writers share their inspirations. Please join us!

40 Responses to “Seven Tips To Make An Old Story New – Advice From Marissa Meyer”

  1. Carla Luna Cullen May 2, 2013 at 10:29 am #

    I think using a modern or futuristic setting can give a fairy tale a totally new vibe. It also forces the writer to think how ‘magic’ might be incorporated in this world – is it magical realism or an accepted part of society? I also love retellings that are told from the villain’s point of view (because everyone’s a hero in their own story!).

    • C H Griffin May 2, 2013 at 10:34 am #

      Definitely! I just read a great post listed in the Linky Tools List about villains. I love a realistic villain who believes what they’re doing is right, so much so that you almost agree with them. Thanks for sharing.

  2. sugaropal May 2, 2013 at 10:38 am #

    The book I have on sub is a retelling, but a subversive one and in fact, I was a third of the way done with it before I realized the iconic things it had in common with a particular fairy tale. One of the things I did to make an old story “new” was to take the obvious symbols and make them stand for something much more “YA” than “rated G”.

    • C H Griffin May 2, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

      That’s a great idea. Sounds like the fairytale inspired you more than you realized.

  3. Rachel Schieffelbein May 2, 2013 at 10:48 am #

    These are great tips! I love retellings. 🙂 I think it’s important to make the character your own. This isn’t just Snow White, this is your Snow White and she doesn’t have to be like any other Snow White that came before her. 🙂

    • C H Griffin May 2, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

      Good point. Because that’s what it’s all about. We wouldn’t have an interesting story without our characters.

  4. coffeeswiller May 2, 2013 at 11:40 am #

    Talk to yourself. Seriously. But -as- a character from a fairytale, -to- either yourself or contemporary figure. Imagine the angle each would take in talking to the other, discuss today’s headlines. Make a note of the interesting twists and turns and write down the quirkiest dialogue segments and try to work them into your story somewhere.

    • C H Griffin May 8, 2013 at 5:55 pm #

      That’s a great idea. Hopefully no one hears me or I will seem even crazier than people already think I am.

  5. keekeepie May 2, 2013 at 11:51 am #

    I think that your story, whatever genre, should be original enough that people will be intrigued by it. For example: I am writing a Greek myth story but am not focusing on thepopular Presephone myth. Instead, I am writing about the War God, Ares. Another important thing is to have strong, believeable characters, a solid plot, an interesting world, and a sympathetic villain. I think a sympathetic villain is so much better than one that is evil for the sake of being evil. It gives the villain a soul and even has the readers sympathize with him.

    • kiperoo May 2, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

      I also love retellings and love this great tips! I can’t believe I haven’t read The Lunar Chronicles yet–I’ve heard such fabulous things about both books.

      My tip to add would be to take advantage of the obscure. Some little detail or some chance encounter could turn into something huge.

      • C H Griffin May 2, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

        I can’t believe it took me so long to read it. It was right up my alley!

    • C H Griffin May 2, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

      Great points. Your choice of POV character will give the traditional Greek Myth idea a fresh new angle.

  6. kaylie May 2, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

    Giving a retelling a makeover by keeping subtle basics of the story, then going further than the original ever intended to go. What happens after the happily ever-after? What if Prince Charming wasn’t perfect, or if the innocent damsel in distress is really a kick-butt huntress? Giving a modern or futuristic twist pushes the basis of the story into new generations, and in this way might incorporate new lessons. IE: a girl can stand up for herself and doesn’t always need a hero, or no boy is perfect, or the villain has some good characteristics that just need to be brought out. The latter is my favorite. 🙂

    • C H Griffin May 2, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

      That’s a favorite of mine too. It really pushes the limits and makes the reader think about good vs evil. Instead of that black and white feel to a fairytale, you get shades of grey that make you wonder. Also, I’ve always wondered what would happen if you moved in with Prince Charming to discover he leaves his wet towel on the carpet, or picks his nose, or that gorgeous head of hair is actually a toupe!

  7. Cassidy Leora May 2, 2013 at 12:17 pm #

    To make a story your own unique design, the What If trick is really nifty. What If puss n boots was the threat in the story to a brave little mouse? What If Red riding hood was lost in the woods and it was a Wolf that led her to safety? And, overall, if you love your idea, write it.

    • C H Griffin May 2, 2013 at 2:38 pm #

      That’s a good trick. Sometimes we fall so in love with our stories, that we don’t let ourselves think outside the box even when it would benefit the novel. The “what if” tool would allow you to feel like you’re not committing to changing anything (yet), you’re just testing the water with a new idea. Much less scary.

  8. Debbie Causevic May 2, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

    Great tips. I love the idea of a familiar tale from an alternate POV. So much could be done there. If only there was time to write all these story ideas that come to mind…

    • C H Griffin May 2, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

      Yes. I vote for more hours in the day. Or maybe one day I can quit my day job 🙂

  9. Mia Celeste May 2, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

    Thanks for the tips. I love retellings, but I haven’t tried my hand at writing one yet. I’ll save your tips in case I do. My advice for writing one of these tales might be to read what others have done (learn from the masters) when they take a familiar story and spin it. I’d love to win a copy of the Lunar Chronicles.

    • C H Griffin May 2, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

      That’s true. Isn’t that how we all learn? We read before we wrote. And most writers begin because they were inspired by someone else.

  10. Dale May 2, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

    I think what makes a story original and fresh is when readers think they know where it’s going, but then the unexpected happens. Using multiple archetypes blended into a modern tale, the storyteller can tell a story in a different way that makes it fun to read. It can keep the reader’s interest especially when their initial assumptions are wrong. The less obvious the archetypes, the better the story.

    • C H Griffin May 2, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

      For sure. You know you’ve done a good job creating something fresh if your reader can’t predict what’s going to happen next. Great tip.

  11. Keely Hutton May 2, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

    Great tips! To help my 8th graders grasp the importance of perspective, I have them tell classic fairytales from the antagonist’s point of view. So much fun. Breathes new life into the stories and often injects them with a good dose of humor. My favorite thus far is the witch from Hansel and Gretel, who opts to build her next house out of liver and broccoli to keep away bratty kids. 🙂

    • C H Griffin May 2, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

      Haha that’s awesome! That’s literary gold, that is!

  12. Stacey May 2, 2013 at 4:13 pm #

    Fairytale retellings: whittle down the story to its essence and build from there. (Example, Little Mermaid: girl leaves home/life to find love, but things don’t work out (except in the Disney version). That can lead to all sorts of possibilities.

    • C H Griffin May 2, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

      Great example! Would love to read a rewrite of that.

  13. Ng Jing Zhi May 2, 2013 at 4:42 pm #

    I think that one should not restrict themselves when writing – just go beyond boundaries and let your imagination flow. When writing a story, one should also not stop too often to amend things. This could disrupt the train of thoughts and one can possibly get writer’s block. Just keep writing, and when you’re done, take a step back and see what you have created. 🙂

    • C H Griffin May 2, 2013 at 5:00 pm #

      That’s great advice. I’m currently working on the first draft of my WIP and I have to remind myself to do just that. Forget about making it perfect because no one is going to read it until you’re ready to show them. Just let it flow 🙂

  14. Pat Esden May 3, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

    One of the cool things I’ve seen done is change the age of the characters–like make Hansel and Gretel elderly people and the witch a meals on wheels volunteers. Hey, that might not make a bad short story.

    Great post!

  15. Kayla C. May 4, 2013 at 10:49 am #

    I love stories retold from one of the minor characters points of view. One of my favorites is Ophelia by Lisa Klein. The story of Hamlet gave you a certain portrait of Ophelia, but now we get to see what was actually going on behind the scenes, and it gives her story an entirely new perspective. Such a fantastic book, read it if you haven’t already!

    • C H Griffin May 4, 2013 at 5:10 pm #

      You’re right. When reading Hamlet, you get the sense of a much greater character in Ophelia, but never get to see it. Sounds like an interesting story.

  16. Shelver506 @ Bookshelvers Anonymous May 4, 2013 at 6:04 pm #

    As an offshoot of the Unhappy Ending, what if things DID work out the way they were supposed to but then fell apart from there? There’s so much we don’t know when a fairy tale closes. Build off that!

    • C H Griffin May 4, 2013 at 6:31 pm #

      Like what happens after the happily ever after. Good idea

  17. A.M. Pierre May 13, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    I definitely enjoy alternate points of view (makes me think of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead).

    You could makeg an originally passive main character an active participant – take control of your literary destiny, little passive character! 😉

  18. Rebecca Lockhart May 13, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

    I think that continuously putting up new obstacles for characters to overcome helps keep a story fresh. I also enjoy building new worlds in unique settings with innovative technology that I personally would like to be invented. Complex characters that do exactly the opposite of what you expect them to do are great, like a strong female character who doesn’t fall head over heels for the hot boy, but instead focuses on her goals.

  19. thebookineer May 13, 2013 at 6:05 pm #

    I think if you’re doing a reselling of old stories, you can do a lot with an original story to make it it your own. For instance, if you’re using an old fairytale with good ole Prince Charming, you could make it your own by making the “prince” a famous celebrity, popular high school guy, or something like that.
    Or if you’re using something that a lot of authors have done before, (dystopian, vampires, witches, etc.) than you can just look into them and think of something that they don’t have. Or, if they’re witches/wizards, they could have different powers, or even be called different names!
    Above all, I think that people should just look around them for inspiration to find how to make their stories original. Heck, maybe that treehouse outside may be a super cool training room for time travel or something.

    By the way, thanks so much for the giveaway, been wanting to start these books for a while! 🙂

  20. Madison May 13, 2013 at 6:14 pm #

    Tell it from another character’s perspective. It doesn’t have to be a main character. Just think how they would of viewed it

  21. Bayram F. May 13, 2013 at 7:38 pm #

    I don’t have much to say but you can use a modern dystopian setting or use some elements of mythology.

  22. Brandy May 14, 2013 at 8:14 am #

    I think to keep ideas fresh, you need to look around and use personal experience to draw on.

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