Writing a Literary Adaptation

A quick question with a quick answer about writing a literary adaptation, whether you’re doing a PB or a Young Adult fiction novel inspired by a classic tale (folklore, Shakespeare, etc.). This comes from Randi:

Do you think the re-writing of a classic picture book with a different protagonist and different word choice, but with the same setting could be marketable or are the classics hands-off?

literary adaptation
If you’re writing an adaptation of a classic story, you need to add your own twist to it.

Add Value to Your Literary Adaptation

Every time you do a literary adaptation, you have to add value to it. Changing a few details around (this includes wording, names, location, time period) but keeping the story premise intact is just you letting the original do most of the work, so I don’t see the benefit. Anybody could do that, and publishers are looking to publish a creator and a voice that are unique. The best literature adaptations are INSPIRED by a classic but then go off in their own completely fresh directions.

A Twist on Cinderella

My favorite literary adaptation curve-ball example to give when people are talking about adapting classics is CINDER by Marissa Meyer. The original tale is, obviously, Cinderella, but this is a futuristic book where Cinderella is a cyborg working in a scrap heap in New Beijing and there’s an entire civilization of Lunar people. At least that’s what it was back when I read it as a manuscript. That is certainly much more impressive and imaginative than changing a few names and locations.

Let’s put it this way: If Marissa Meyer had not brought the core concept of CINDER to the Cinderella story, there would be no book. She didn’t just tinker with the original, she took the entire thing apart, repainted it, and put it back together her own way. A literary adaptation in today’s market takes nothing less.

Are you thinking of writing a literary adaptation? I’d love to be your developmental editor and help you workshop ideas for putting your own twist on a classic tale.

6 Replies to “Writing a Literary Adaptation”

  1. Kevin A. Lewis says:

    The best adaptation/homages are the ones that don’t start out with that intention; there seems to be a lot of emphasis in this site (which is quite creditable, by the way) on technical construction, storyboarding and the like. However, in my view (as a writer who plays his Stratocaster with his teeth or as the situation seems to require) this kills a lot of the sponteneity and surprise elements that set any YA or MG projects into marketable territory…I’ve got a spoof fantasy where the charming prince runs into a Sleeping Beauty who’s allergic to garlic and sunlight, for instance, but I didn’t know it till he was almost at the castle gates… Improvisation is a peculiar skill that takes years to perfect, though.

  2. You got the basics of CINDER right – I just read it the other day. Almost put it down when I read “cyborg” on the back cover, but I’m so glad I gave it a chance! It’s a great adaptation. You picked a good example.

  3. Gloria Romano says:

    What is great about these adaptations is that it introduces teens and children to classic stories that they may not have read before. Now, I’m not refering to popular fairy tales but classic books by authors such as Austen, Shakespeare, and Bronte. I feel that if you can put a different spin on a classic tale than young readers may be interested in the original piece. As for fairy tale adaptations, they are very fun and entertaining to read. Plus they offer a different view of a fairy tale story that most people may not have seen before.
    From a writer’s prespective, I have to agree that if you attempt to write an adaptation you should try not to do so word from word. Adding your own spin to the original tale makes it interesting and enjoyable, for readers young and old.

  4. Anjali Amit says:

    I love how you nailed it with the sentence “Every time you do an adaptation, you have to add value to it.” That is the key, because ‘There is nothing new under the sun.’

  5. christine Tripp says:

    Or take a classic to another level. What happens after or before the original. Like the play “Wicked” for example.

  6. How true. I have never thought about doing an adaptation, but it is a great idea. I have seen them done. Now I’ll notice the adding value part.

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