10 Tips for Retelling Shakespeare in a Fresh Way!
(Editor’s Note: We love Shakespeare at WD, but we also love reinterpretations of Shakespeare. Recently, romance novelist Alana Quintana Albertson, author of Ramón and Julieta, took some time to share her 10 tips for retelling Shakespeare in a fresh way.)
1. Read the original!
Time to go back to high school English class. Actually, reread the play and learn about all the characters and backstory. This will allow you to dig deep and find the elements that resonate with you and also the parts that you want to leave behind. Take notes as you go and enjoy it.
2. Watch an adaptation of the original play!
Shakespeare is meant to be performed. Watch a version of the original play being acted. While you are watching it, recognize your emotions. Were their parts that made you laugh? Made you cry? Made you cringe? How do you want your readers to feel? Use these emotions to help craft your plot.
3. Read or watch a retelling!
This is to spark ideas, not to copy what others have done. But this helps you see the possibilities of adapting a work and making it fresh. What did this author or screenwriter do to stay close to the original? What did they change?
(Alana Quintana Albertson: On Giving a Tragedy a Happy Ending)
I take long walks on the beach and really think about my plot before I begin to outline or write. What is my fresh take? What do I want to convey? How can I make it relatable? What about me and my experience can I bring to this classic tale to reinvent it?
5. Make a list!
This is not plotting which I’ll get to shortly. I make a detailed list of everything I want to keep of the plot and characters. This helps me when I plot. I write down the main elements that must be there and then others that could work and some that I definitely don’t want in my book. There are many problematic aspects of Shakespeare so I make sure to write down what I don’t want in my notes.
6. Name your characters!
This was the most fun part for me! Tiburón aka Tybalt, Romeo aka Ramón. Have fun with this! But at the same time, don’t feel like you have to keep it so on the nose.
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Okay—this is the big debate. Pantsing vs plotting. I plot but will veer off course when I’m writing. But especially in a Shakespeare retelling, I do think it’s important to have the plot somewhat resemble the original or it’s not a retelling. So, there are many ways to plot. For a romance, I use Gwen Hayes’ book, Romancing the Beat. I also make sure I have the dark moment and ending planned before I write. I also write down each of my characters internal and external goal, motivation, and conflict. I learned about this in the GMC book by Debra Dixon.
Draft freely and don’t overanalyze your work. I used to write and rewrite the first 50 pages over and over and over again, never finishing my books. I would get stuck in an endless web. Commit to finishing your first draft no matter what. If you get stuck, write another scene. Make a note in your manuscript – FIX THIS SCENE LATER – but whatever you do, don’t stop. Just keep writing. Like they say, you can’t fix a blank page.
Whether you have a professional editor or you don’t, you should always pre-edit your book. Once I have finished my draft, I take a few days off before I read it. Often, I’m horrified by what I read, but I give myself the grace to accept it. And then I slowly and painfully go back through it and fix it. I look to make sure I hit all the plot points, I’ve resolved all the loose ends, and that my characters behave consistently. You can also send it to a trusted friend or beta reader for some advice.
10. Have Fun!!!
This is the most important part! Don’t get too bogged down with staying true to the story. Make it your own, have fun with the process. This is the most important part of keeping it fresh, relatable, and marketable.
Hope all these tips help! I can’t wait to read your retelling!