Monday, 8 June 2015

5 Things to look for in Fairy Tale Retellings by YA Author Kaitlin Bevis...

Retellings of fairy tales and myths are all over the place, but some are better than others. Here are five things to look for in a great retelling.

1)                          The author only borrowed elements from the original version, not copied it entirely. Let’s look at Cinderella for this example. Unless you are affiliated with Disney, chances are, you can’t just retell the same story in a different, albeit gorgeous, format. The foundation of the story may have existed before, but the author has taken those roots and twisted them into a story of her own telling. A great example of an original Cinderella retelling is Cinder by Marissa Myer. Cinder took pieces of the original story and wove it into something entirely new story set in a dystopian future, featuring an alien Cyborg missing a foot for the title character. Liz DeJesus also wrote a fantastic retelling of Cinderella set in modern day. When reading multiple retellings, you should be able to identify the elements that were borrowed from the original, but otherwise they should be entirely different stories.

2)                          Something major is different. That something needs to move beyond the surface. We’ve all seen and read retellings that only genderbent the cast or changed the setting but otherwise left everything the same. When a key component is changed that should force the author and the reader to consider the story from an entirely different perspective. A great example of this is Fool by Christopher Moore. He takes the story of King Lear and tells it from the Fool’s perspective. Almost all the original dialogue is there, but the perspective is so different that the plot arc has completely changed. No one could say Fool is the same story as King Lear. It’s something different entirely.

3)                          It uses the changes to highlight some important social issue, but not at the expense of the story. Westside Story changed the setting of Romeo and Juliet to highlight gang violence as well as racial tension. But Westside Story didn’t go overboard. There are no after-school special monologues hitting the viewer on the head with the message. The comparison is quietly made and the viewer is left to draw their own conclusions from it.

4)                          Most of the stories that are retold have had a profound impact on culture. The absence or repetition of that myth needs to be explained in the universe. In my story, Persephone, the myths are still happening in modern day. Persephone, the character or the myth, didn’t exist until she was born. That made changes to the culture. I used the lesser known myth of Boreas and Oreithyia as a stand in for the Persephone myth in their culture. I also had to consider the myths she was involved with later and consider how removing these from the society would change that society. Other versions use reincarnation or have characters allude to the original myth and the similarities in what they’re going through.

5)                          They go deeper. The story, the motivations, the world building, the characters. A shallow version of the fairy tale or myth already exists. If the author built on it, at all, that should automatically make it deeper. The deeper, the better. A great example of this is Wicked. The Wicked Witch of the West was a very flat character in The Wizard of Oz. And it worked because she was an archetype. She didn’t need depth. But a good retelling forces you to reevaluate the story by adding depth. Elphaba has major depth and motivation and a backstory and flaws and great traits. She’s a three dimensional character at its finest. But the original mythology is accounted for in the story. When watching the Broadway, it’s easy to see how Dorothy would have seen her as the wicked witch caricature.  The original story is acknowledged, respected even, but it goes deeper. That’s what makes it an amazing retelling.

There are many retellings out there, but some are better than others. Share your favorites, and what made them great, in the comments below.

Blurb: The Daughters of Zeus, Book One

One day Persephone is an ordinary high school senior working at her mom's flower shop in Athens, Georgia. The next she's fighting off Boreas, the brutal god of winter, and learning that she's a bonafide goddess--a rare daughter of the now-dead Zeus. Her goddess mom whisks her off to the Underworld to hide until spring.

There she finds herself under the protection of handsome Hades, the god of the dead, and she's automatically married to him. It's the only way he can keep her safe. Older, wiser, and far more powerful than she, Hades isn't interested in becoming her lover, at least not anytime soon. But every time he rescues her from another of Boreas' schemes, they fall in love a little more. Will Hades ever admit his feelings for her?

Can she escape the grasp of the god of winter's minions? The Underworld is a very nice place, but is it worth giving up her life in the realm of the living? Her goddess powers are developing some serious, kick-butt potential. She's going to fight back.

Kaitlin Bevis spent her childhood curled up with a book and a pen. If the ending didn't agree with her, she rewrote it. Because she's always wanted to be a writer, she spent high school and college learning everything she could to achieve that goal. After graduating college with a BFA and Masters in English, Kaitlin went on to write The Daughters of Zeus series.

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  1. Great advice and excellent blog post. Thanks for the shout out! ;)

  2. Great post. I love retellings and I really enjoyed Kaitlin Bevis' Daughters of Zeus series.

  3. Great tips, Kaitlin. It's easy to forget even the "original" fairytales were themselves re-told, updated, and re-worked to fit new times.

    1. Yeah especially little red riding hood. That one went through quite a transformation

  4. Wicked was the first retelling I thought about. The TV show, Once Upon a Time, does a great job of retelling fairy tales with their own interpretation and going into the backgrounds of the villains.

  5. I love Wicked. Nervous about where once upon a time is headed with Emma. Grr, cliff hangers