Monday, February 21, 2011

Retellings and Continuations

I had an epiphany the other day. Occasionally I do. The topic was retelling fairy tales. Moreso, it had to do with continuing an existing story like Cinderella. The discussion had to do with people not liking how a continuation of the story of Cinderella had turned out. In this particular story, Cinderella didn’t live happily ever after, but instead turned into a self-centered adulteress who wasn’t happy with the prince but wanted some other guy. Of course, the first thing we think of when we think of that is that Cinderella wouldn’t be like that. She isn’t that type of girl It messes with the archetype.

But consider that there are hundreds of Cinderella retellings out there. I know of one in which they turned the story around. Instead of Cinderella having humble beginnings and attending the ball to meet the prince, the Cinderella character was wealthy and was magically forced to become a servant and only regained her position after learned to be humble. No one objected to that story because it wasn’t true to the original, but rather they rejoiced in its diversity.

There is a huge difference between retelling a story and continuing a story. If we say we are going to continue a story, readers expect us to pick up where the other story left off. With a story like Cinderella, that can be particularly difficult because there are so many different versions. The best we can do is to stick to those things that are common to most of the stories that people remember. I doubt people will get upset with you if you retell it with a wooden shoe instead of a glass slipper, since we’ve seen both in the stories. But Cinderella is always humble and submissive. If we make her something else in a continuation, people will decry our character as not being a true Cinderella.

Suppose however that we begin with a retelling. In this retelling, Cinderella isn’t humble and submissive. Instead of just taking it, she dishes back what she receives from her step family. We instantly know that this isn’t the traditional Cinderella, so when we change the story to fit the character our audience isn’t surprised. We can’t have her helped in the same way as in the typical Cinderella tale because it doesn’t fit the character. We might instead have her give the prince a love potion that makes him fall for her.

Once we have established this new story, we can go into the continuation of this new story. If in the continuation Cinderella turns out to be an awful person, people might cheer when she fails, but they won’t be upset about the character making such a drastic change without explanation.

I don’t really like continuations anyway. The problem is that the most important thing that happened in the character’s life happened in the first story, so whatever we throw at them in the second will be less important or we will have to manufacture something that doesn’t really fit.

What about you? Do you prefer retellings or continuations?

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