Emily Wenstrom, editor and publisher of short story ezine wordhaus, wrote a wonderful post this week on reinterpreting art. I had to smile as I recalled experiencing the same sense of familiarity she describes. Usually from an instrumental melody streaming from elevator speakers, or soothing patients in their long wait at the doctor’s office.
And I remember the feeling of disbelief (and possibly the passing years) as I realize it’s a big hit from my youth that’s been sanitized, rough edges smoothed, and repackaged for a different audience. My first thought is always, “How can these songs possibly be available to elevator music companies already?” I suppose I thought that could only happen to music after it had aged for fifty or more years. Surely there must be some process akin to how you determine if the end table in your living room is a genuine antique or just something Aunt Hilda didn’t want in her house any longer.
Once I identify those melodies (kudos to anyone who can do that in two bars or less), like Emily, I usually find that I enjoy the new interpretation in an entirely different way than I did the original.
After reading Emily’s post, I began thinking about how often I see and enjoy these reinterpretations in the writing world.
Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, and The Big Bad Wolf show up over and over again in the romance genre. Yet each new story is unique in how the characters find their happy-ever-after.
Espionage and superspies have been popular since James Fenimore Cooper gave us The Spy, back in 1821. Since then, the world of books has been blessed with the suave Bond, the burned out Leamus, the stone cold Bolan, the violent Nikita, the bumbling Smart, and the very human Smiley, along with many more, created by hundreds of writers (in print as well as on the screen).
Each new version of a classic character, every iteration of a beloved concept finds new audiences. And those new readers may search out other works in the genre… ultimately discovering the fathers and mothers of these tales. In doing so, they uncover the reason these story lines, these types of character draw us in again and again.
The stories and characters resonate with something deep within each of us. We recognize our own lives in the pages of the books. Or we recognize what we dream our lives could be… if only we were as bold and daring, as loyal and loving, as exciting as these characters seem to us.
We discuss with other readers and writers the sparks of inspiration we find in each new book we read, and every older book we revisit. We find the familiar and the unknown… and begin to wonder “What if….”
As long as we dream of possibilities, as long as we see adventure around the corner, as long as we aspire to new revelations about who we are and of what we are capable, we will continue to reinvent, adapt, and create that dialogue Emily talks about – between the past and the present, the old and the new.
So, tell us, which story concept would you choose to riff on? Who are the characters that inspire your writing today? Who are the authors to whom you apprentice yourself (whether in actuality or imagination)? Leave a comment and share how you would reinvent your favorite classic. And then go do just that.