Monday, November 25, 2013

A new take on a classic

If you were going to rewrite a classic and adapt it to modern day (something like Clueless did for Jane Austen's Emma), which classic would you choose? How would you rewrite it?

by Meredith Cole

To be honest, I really like most of the original classics and don't think they need a modern spin. I did enjoy Clueless and the modern Sherlock Holmes on the BBC, so I certainly don't think all adaptations are bad. But the idea that modern readers can't read the classics (or modern TV viewers need black and white classics "colorized" so they're more palatable) is an abhorent idea.

There are writing exercises which suggest that fledgeling writers attempt to "write like" a great author, or take one of their plots and copy them. Either one is definitely interesting to attempt. Trying to write in someone else's voice can make you more aware of voice and help you find your own. And trying to replicate the plot of a master can show you how to create better plots of your own.

I did rewrite a classic once--an Agatha Christie. I gave "Twelve Little Indians" a modern spin, but kept quite a few of her plot points (plus her crazy twist of an ending) intact, and made the story into a screenplay. It was a fun exercise, and the process of deciding which plot points to keep and which to ignore made me appreciate Agatha Christie even more. She definitely knew how to keep a story moving. But the process also made me aware of how old fashioned she was and how she was very much a product of her time.

What classics would you like to see adapted to modern day (either by you or someone else)? And which can't you stand? Do tell...


Barry Knister said...

In my view, adaptations are for the most part acts of business exploitation. Adapt a Jane Austen novel or a Shakespeare play, and you don't have to pay for the rights. But the worst thing about adaptations is that they reduce great books to plots. We all know from "plot wheels" that there are a fairly limited number of plots. What separates one author's version from another is treatment and style. That you can appreciate only by reading and understanding the original.

Meredith Cole said...

Great point, Barry! I agree. Although I found it a useful exercise for me to go through another author's book and examine their plot points, I really don't approve of adding zombies to Jane Austen's book--or hiring authors to create sequels once the author is dead. It just doesn't feel right to me.

Susan C Shea said...

Meant to respond to this when it was fresh, but the holiday interfered. I am intrigued by your work with Christie's story. If I were trying, I might also pick a Christie to refresh and update. Right now, I'm writing a book that aims to pay some kind of subtle homage to Jane austin, but it's not a literal update, just like her in poking fun at the ways people get along - or not - in closed social circles.