Monday, February 27, 2012
Footloose and Not So Fancy Free: Four Ways to Update an Old (And Familiar) Stories
When the hubby and I watched the new Footloose movie we had mixed feelings about it. Part if it was easily because the original 1984 version was a big part of our teen years, but part of it was due to the almost too faithful remake. Nothing felt fresh, even though it was new movie. It took what was already out there and just re-made it. It's a great example of why a book might not grab an agent's or editor's eye.
There's nothing fresh about the story.
For those who haven't seen the movie (shame on you) here's a quick summary: Ren moves to the small town of Belmont, where a tragic accident in the past forced the leaders to enact a no dancing, no drinking, no partying law. Ren challenges that law to hold a senior prom for his classmates. The plot device is a bit cheesy, but it's a story about growing up, challenging authority, and standing up for what you believe in.
A classic plot.
We all know there's nothing that hasn't been done before, and how important it is to put a fresh spin on a common story. But how do you know what to update and what to keep the same tried and true?
1. Personal Backstories
One nice thing about the new Footloose was that they updated why Ren and his mother were in Belmont. Original: Dad left and they moved. New: Dad was long gone, Mom died, and Ren had to go live with his aunt and uncle. The new backstory changed his reasons for wanting to challenge the no dancing law and have a senior prom.
If you're have a not-so-fresh (NSF) story idea, try looking at the backstory of your protag to see if there's a way to have their past bring a new element to the story. Are they coming at it from a new perspective? Maybe the opposite of what's traditionally been done?
One thing that fell flat in the new movie for me was the love interest Ariel, and her self-destructive streak. In the original, she was a promiscuous risk taker who straddled the doors of two moving cars while a semi barreled toward them. In the remake, she sat on the window as a race car did a slow victory lap. She had very good reasons for her death wish, but those were abandoned in the remake and because of that, they stakes were lower.
If the stakes don't raise the consequences any higher, the story doesn't ascend to a new and more interesting level. What about your NSF tale might be made bigger or more dangerous that no one's ever tried before? Are there any new ramifications?
There's a great scene in the original movie where the kids are listening to forbidden music and dancing a bit, and the preacher show up and every shuts down in a panic. Same scene in the remake, but the dancing is much more structured somehow, like this is something the kids do all the time, so the forbidden isn't really holding them back from doing what they want. If they dance any time they want at this drive-in restaurant, what's the big deal of the law?
If a NSF story is set in the same place, doing the same basic things as all the others like it, it'll likely feel stale. Is there a way to move the story to a new location that adds an entirely new level? And not just geographically, but historically or even genre or gender?
4. A Change in Perspective
Ren in 1984 wasn't much different from Ren in 2011. Neither was Ariel, and in fact, she seemed to go more conservative, not less. The attitudes of the characters didn't feel modern to me, which made the movie feel a bit static and old hat. The one change I did love was the uncle. In the original, he represented the stuffy opinions of the town. In the remake, he had a more modern attitude, standing up for Ren instead of being against him.
Challenging assumptions and changing perspectives (in an opinion sense not a POV sense) is a great way to freshen up a NSF story. What's typical in that type of tale? What do readers take for granted? Maybe there's a way to shake things up by coming at the story from a new direction.
Original ideas can do more to get your foot in the publishing door than making sure you don't have any adverbs. The fresher your story, the better the chance it'll have at selling.
Do you have any not-so-fresh ideas you're struggling to liven up? Have you ever been rejected because a story wasn't original enough?