Saturday, August 3, 2013

Saturday So What Spotlight: Rebecca Jamison and taking on the classics

I'm out of computer range for few weeks. So, Rebecca Jamison offered to step up for a Saturday So What Spotlight. Her new book is a modern day retelling of Emma, so I asked her to talk about the gargantuan task of taking on beloved classics.

Five Tips for Adapting the Classics
Guest Post by Rebecca H. Jamison
About the Author: Rebecca H. Jamison is a full-time mom with a passion for running, dancing, and writing novels. She is the author of Persuasion: A Latter-day Tale and Emma: A Latter-day Tale. You can learn more about her at

My kids watched The Lion King last week. Afterward, my seven-year-old said, “The Lion King is really Hamlet.” I don’t know how he knew that, but he was right. Who’d have thought anyone could turn Hamlet into a  Disney movie?

Many successful books and movies are classics reworked. Here are a few random examples I’ve noticed lately:

·         The movie You’ve Got Mail is adapted from The Shop Around the Corner.

·         Carla Kelly’s Borrowed Light is Jane Eyre placed in turn of the century Wyoming.

·         Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca is also a version of Jane Eyre.

·         The TV show Castle’s 100th episode is based on the movie Rear Window.

Writing an adapted classic seems like a cop-out, but it’s not as easy as it looks. Since I’ve spent the last few years adapting Jane Austen’s classics into contemporary LDS fiction, I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned. Here are five tips for adapting the classics:

1.      Keep the Emotions. The classics are still around because they touch people emotionally. We feel for Hamlet, Jane Eyre, and Elizabeth Bennett. Your goal in adapting the classic should be to create the same range of emotions with new characters and settings.
2.      Twist the Events. If you market your novel as an adaptation, as I do, you’ll need to mirror the events of the classic. However, you also have to avoid predictability. The events in your novel should seem natural to the setting you choose. When Scar kills Mufasa in The Lion King, he doesn’t pour poison in his ear as Hamlet’s uncle did; he kills him with a stampede. While writing my version of Emma, I struggled with a way to bring the gypsies to modern-day Virginia. Turning them into muggers seemed too predictable, so I made them paparazzi instead. This works because one of the characters is a country music star.
3.      Remember the Movie too.  Most of the people who read rewritten classics are much more familiar with the movies than the book. Therefore, you must create a twist on the events in both the book and  the movie version.
4.      Make the Characters Real. You want the reader to be so invested in your characters that they forget they’re reading an adaptation. To do this, you must give your character an original back-story, quirks, and traits. Make sure each chapter reveals something new about your main characters’ personalities.

5.      Watch the Dialogue. A common complaint I hear about contemporary adaptations of classic novels is that the dialogue seems old-fashioned. The author has spent so much time reading the classics that antiquated dialogue seems natural to her. An easy remedy for this problem is to read your dialogue out loud.

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