Fresh Fiction Writing Refreshed


Yesterday, the heart of my post about writing fresh fiction was this: A fresh story is a familiar one told in a new way. Or a different story told in a familiar way.

While I think those statements are true, I don’t think they are particularly helpful to a writer who is trying to figure out out to tell a familiar story so that it comes across as something new and interesting.

I think of King Arthur stories, since there are so many of them. It seems next to impossible to tell the tale in a new way, and yet Bryan Davis did in his Dragons in Our Midst series of YA fantasies (AMG Publishing).

Part of his stories, but not all, were flashback scenes of King Arthur and good prophet Merlin saving the dragons from dragon hunters by turning them into people. Reviewers often said their favorite parts of the books were these Arthurian legend scenes.

Obviously Bryan told the familiar in a new way. But how? For one, he linked Arthur with dragons, something I don’t think is part of the traditional legend. He also made dragons in need of saving and gave Arthur a pivotal role in doing so. In other words, Bryan’s fresh take enhanced the existent story and built upon the character’s strengths.

Stephen Lawhead also re-imaged a familiar story in his King Raven series (Thomas Nelson)—Robin Hood. He changed the legendary setting from England to Wales, then in the final book of the trilogy gave a credible explanation how the English adopted the story based on a “real” Welsh hero.

A third example of a fresh take on a familiar legend is the movie Ever After, the story of Cinderella, told as if by an aging relative who passed the true story along to the Brothers Grimm. In this “real” version, Cinderella is anything but a helpless woman, though she is mistreated by her step-mother and one step-sister (the other turns out to be of some help later in the story, though she doesn’t stand up to those who are abusive).

The magic elements of the story are changed into real events/people, with only a perception of the fantastic. Another twist is that the prince, when he learns who Cinderella actually is, feels betrayed by her and is unwilling to marry beneath his station. Later he comes to his senses, rushes to save her from a brute who has bargained with her step-mother to marry her, but finds she has already freed herself from the man’s evil clutches.

These three examples do not hide their source but make a concerted effort to alter the story in some significant way: Davis by incorporating dragons in the Arthurian legend, Lawhead by changing the setting of Robin Hood, and Ever After by explaining away the magic of Cinderella and adjusting the plot accordingly.

Making full use of myth and legend while altering the source in some significant way is just one method of telling the old in a new way. But I’ll save any further discussion of fresh fiction for another day.

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