Friday, June 4, 2010

I'm #1... Chronologically, Anyway

So my husband comes home last night with crawfish gelato.

That's right, I said CRAWFISH GELATO. That he made at work. On purpose. And it was good. We tried it, we liked it, and then he turns to me and says:

"I think I might just be the first person to make crawfish gelato, ever."

He's probably right, and he should be freaking proud of his accomplishment. He's been a chef half his life and this is the first time he's ever had the opportunity to say he's probably the first to do something.

That got me thinking, as is my wont...

There's been a lot of buzz lately about retold stories—see the DGLM blog post here. I've blogged about this before, and even tried my hand (and failed spectacularly) at one.

I don't mind reading a retold story. One of my favorite books of the past few years is Danielle Joseph's Shrinking Violet, which is more or less a Cinderella story. I haven't read Melinda Lo's Ash, but I imagine that the two stories are very different even though they are both basically derived from the same source. How hard could writing a retold story be, I thought?

Technically, Evangeline is sort of a retold story. It's loosely based on the Longfellow poem by the same name, in which a young woman loses her love during the Acadian diaspora and travels across the country to find him. I could have stuck with this plot, but instead—since I'd already decided this would be a time-travel romance before I'd even named the mc—I decided to change things to suit the story that was forming in my head.

Taking a loose idea and turning it into something completely new is much easier for me than, say, when I tried to rewrite Hansel and Gretel. I just couldn't figure out what else to do once I got them to the witch's house. I wanted to depart from the expected there, too, but I had no idea how to do that while still being true to the nature of the story. I wanted it to be about the kids tricking the witch instead of being eaten by her, but my mind kept trying to move AROUND the existing plot, not enliven what was already there.

That's when I realized I'd rather be writing something new, something exciting to me, something no one's ever written before.

I want to be the first!

The problem with that in writing is, well, are my ideas really that original? I guess the real question is, does anyone care if the story is written well and has engaging characters?

How important is being original? Does it really matter in the long run? What are your thoughts on the subject?

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Lydia Kang said...

I've heard so many times that there are really no new stories. But every time you craft a story with some old themes but with your own characters and twists, it's new and shiny.
So, in the end, being original is fun, but it's impossible to do everything for the first time. Themes are universal and get recycled all the time!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I've done both, and I think it comes down to what story is screaming to be written. I had a lot of fun writing my fractured fairy tale but I've never done anything with it. Doesn't mean I can't.

Abby Annis said...

Crawfish gelato? Hmm... I guess you have to try it to make a judgement? ;)

I think about this all the time--originality, not crawfish gelato--and I've been known to remove something from my writing if it resembles something else too closely. Ultimately, I think it's very possible to be original. Maybe not in overall concept, but in the execution--only you can tell it the way you tell it. Sorry. All I have are generic thoughts today. Have a good weekend! :)

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

Crawfish gelato sounds SO weird. But if you say it's good I guess I'll trust you. :)

And yeah, I try to be as original as I can. But it's hard. There's always something else it can be compared to. So I try to just tell it my way, and hope that's enough.

Have a great weekend!

Krispy said...

Well, mentioning crawfish gelato was a great opener for this blog post. That sounds so weird. I don't know if I'd be brave enough to try it.

I kind of love retold stories because I like seeing how the author has re-interpreted it, and I love it when I can't tell the story is a retelling until a certain point in the plot, and it's kind of like reconnecting with an old friend. I don't know. It's awesome. Plus, I just really like fairy tales. Haha.

It's definitely cool to be original, but I think mainly you just shouldn't sweat it too much. Like people say, there's nothing new under the sun. So I guess your originality stems from how you manage to present your stories. That makes them new. Happy weekend!

T. Anne said...

I try to make proverbial crawfish gelato each time I sit down to write. I hope it's palatable. ;)

Tess said...

wow. crawfish gelato. all I can think of is 'wow'. he must be amazingly talented - first, to think of doing it and second to make it taste good!

and, I hear what you are saying on re-tells. They can be challenging because we, as readers, come w/ some preconceived notions. I also prefer an 'original' concept, though nothing out there is completely w/out influence.

and, for what it is worth, Evangeline is a beautiful name and title. Whatever the story, I'd pick it off the shelf for that alone.

Tahereh said...

this is a really fascinating post, and you bring up an excellent point. i think, however, that ultimately our ideas are never truly original. but that's why fiction is so amazing -- the ideas don't need to be unique, what's important instead is the EXECUTION of those ideas. how many times have we read stories that seem to revolve around the same premise? and yet somehow, there are always certain books that stand out against the crowd. i think this has to do with the writing, with the voice, with the flavor only an author can give it.

so i wouldn't worry too much about "original" ideas. and i think any story, no matter how derivative, if told well, will be fantastic.

i wish you every success with your writing! and i hope all is going well for you :D

thanks for sharing!

Guinevere said...

Really interesting post. I've never thought about re-writing another story (except in a different format), but I think it can be done very well. I think originality matters, but not necessarily in terms of plot or subject matter. Someone can write a really original rendition of a story we all know well, kwim?

Shannon said...

I with you, I like new stories...well, writing them anyway. :)

And how great is that to have a husband who's a chef? Really cool.

Icy Roses said...

I think you're being original. I mean, fairy tale retellings are among my favorite books, and I actively seek them out. I think it's really cool how people can take a fairy tale and flesh out the characters and turn it into something new. That is originality.


Okay, I have to tell you something: I was so freaked out by the picture at the top of this blog that I almost screamed. Crawfish freak me the hell out. That's why I've never eaten them. I should post something constructive about your post, but my brain is all on edge and thoughtless right now.

Um, here goes: retellings = ? Not sure I've ever read any (and I sure as heck haven't tried writing any). Maybe I need to get on that.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Crawfish gelato? Love that Cajun engineering! About the story plotting -- yeah, there's pretty much nothing new under the sun, but it sure is fun thinking up unique twists & turns.