Tips to Writing a Good Retelling \\ Guest Post by J.M. Sullivan

I love retellings.

It comes from my original love of fairy tales – heroes, villains, happy endings, I love all of it! And so when a new version of my old favorite comes out I can’t help but jump for it.

That said, as a writer I’ve always been too afraid to pick a story to retell. Because where do I even start? What kind of creativity liberty do I have, and what do I need to include? I have no idea.

So when I got the opportunity to have J.M Sullivan write a guest post, I knew that it had to be on how to write a retelling! (If you want credentials, I’ll have an authir bio below 😉)

So without further ado, here are some elements to include when you write a retelling:


What are key elements that every retelling needs? Whether it’s elements you add, or elements you keep from the original story.

Hmmm. This is a really good question, and it’s something every retelling writer will probably answer a little bit differently, but really, I think a great retelling comes down to two main elements: the references and the twist.

It goes without saying, a retelling has to have elements from the original story, otherwise it’s not really a retelling. One of my favorite things about reading retellings is finding pieces of stories that I already love wrapped in a new book experience. It’s almost like putting together a puzzle where I have an idea of what I think it will look like but find out the big picture as I read.

To accomplish this, a reteller has to weave seamless references into their work. This is where it varies for each author, because there are lots of different ways to go about this. Some writers use storyline, others focus on characters, while some use iconic lines. I like to use a little bit of it all. I find that the more I can incorporate the original into my work, the fuller my story becomes. Whether it’s referencing a location, or by having a character with the exact same traits as the dastardly villain, each reference adds depth to the story and brings my retell to life.

But a strong retelling needs more than just references. What sets apart a good retelling from an amazing one is the twist. Classic stories are great, but a retelling has to be more. Nobody wants to read a carbon copy of an book that’s already been written, even if that book is a classic.

That’s where the twist comes in

The twist is what an entire retelling rests on. Whether it’s zombies, or space pirates, or an unhappy ending, how the story changes is where the retelling magic lies. Instead of the wand choosing the wizard, the twist chooses the author. Every writer’s experiences lend to a different twist for different tales, and that’s why there are so many amazing retellings out in the world, and why there will be so many more.

So, that’s my answer, as best as I can give it to you. If you want to write a great retelling, you need to have awesome references and a phenomenal twist. The references are where the story is built, and the twist is where it becomes something completely new.


J.M. Sullivan

J.M. Sullivan is the author of Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles – a book about zombies, beheading and a kickass female lead. I can personally tell you all that she is a wonderful writer and person. She runs the #authorconfession hashtag on Twitter and Instagram and if you’re a fan of Alice in Wonderland, I’d give her page a look 😉

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