Thursday, July 12, 2012

Riffing Off the Classics Your Way

One of our readers posed a most intriguing question last week when she asked how one goes about re-adapting a classic...and ultimately making it your own in the process.

So that's precisely what I'm going to talk about today since it's something I did a little of myself when I wrote my second novel, Blessed Are the Meddlers.

Unlike the movie Clueless where Amy Heckerling brilliantly re-imagined Emma as a privileged high school student living in L.A. and practically went plot point by plot point in telling the story with a Southern California twist, I opted for a broader route with my "modern-day Emma." I captured her meddling ways as far as matchmaking was concerned, but there was no Mr. Knightley, Harriet or Frank, no falling in love with her step-brother, just a wink and a nudge to them in the naming of my characters (yes, there's even an Austin...and yes, I know the spelling is wrong).

So if you're stuck in finding an original plotline that really inspires you, it never hurts to borrow from the classics. As a rule of thumb, you can borrow a little like I did or a lot like Ms. Heckerling, as long as the end result is still something unique. After all, there's nothing worse than getting inspiration from somewhere and bring a slave to it. Classics are classics for a reason, but putting a clever spin on one can not only be fun, but you'll have a built-in audience to boot.

After all, if you like Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice, who couldn't help wondering what the story would be like once ZOMBIES were involved?

While it was admittedly a bit strange, it was a fun way to push the classic story into the modern age.

On a side note, I like to give myself little creative writing projects to keep those proverbial juices flowing between all my journalistic work and my own W.I.P, so imagining a classic literary hero or heroine in a new setting is usually my go-to assignment. Even if it doesn't end up being the idea I want to commit a full manuscript to, it's still a great exercise in riffing off an existing storyline and seeing what literary gold comes as a result (sometimes it's more like rusty copper, but you get the idea).


  1. I do like the idea od revamping a classic but I struggle to get into classics. Does anyone know of any easy to read ones that may change my mind? I'm A rom-com/chick lit girl

    How much can you take from current books?

  2. I think you can riff off a current book as well, why not? It's just with the classics you have an opportunity to update something people have loved already. But with chick lit/rom-coms, you could always do a twist on something recent, too. Take You've Got Mail, for example. What if Kathleen Kelly and Joe Fox just kept e-mailing and didn't meet until much, much later? What if it wasn't Joe Fox and had been someone else instead (like the guy she was living THAT would be a funny story). You can take anything you like and put a twist on it.

    If you don't like classics, I'd skip that. You have to write about what appeals to you. :) But you could always take a heavy book like "The Scarlet Letter" and do what they did with the movie "Easy A." Took some of the same themes but modernized it. :)

    Basically, the sky's the limit!

  3. That would be a good one!
    I've toyed with you've got mail a little but set in a yarn shop. I haven't been sure about the exact plot. I also really like While You Were Sleeping and have been trying to find a way to combine them with some twists!

  4. I think that if I were going to rewrite a movie, I'd choose P.S. I Love You. :) Of course, being the hopeless romantic that I am, I'd have to make the girl fall in love with the guy at the end. Or at least fall in love with SOMEONE.

  5. I'm all for happy ever afters :) Good ideas girls!! I like all of those. I'd read 'em :)

  6. You think it's a good idea? Thanks! I have a hard time liking an idea long enough to flesh it out, let alone write it.

  7. Tonya - I like both those movies so I think it's a great idea! :)