Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, every plot was brand new. Lovers met, lost and met again. Parents were cruel or kind. Leaders became despots, heroes saved the day and sacrificed themselves. The courageous went on quests. And all for the FIRST TIME. But you guys, that was a long time ago. Hello, the Hebrew Bible says there's nothing new under the sun, and that was written SIX THOUSAND YEARS AGO. So what's the big deal about a rehash? We see a lot of retellings in YA, and we like to think we've become experts on what makes one work and what doesn't.
Rule No. 1: Stick to the source material
I'm not talking about the Disney source material, either. I mean, I love watching Ariel become part of our world as much as anyone, but have you READ Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid? She loses her tongue, every step she takes on land is excruciating, and she dies of a broken heart because she can't murder her unfaithful prince. How awesome is that? Also, if you DO mess with the source, be ready to deal with legions of slightly scary fans who will pick apart every little departure (unless you make bloodthirsty killers into sparkly big game hunters, in which case you'll make a zillion dollars and spawn a frightening monster known as the Twimom).
Rule No. 2: Be original
Wait, didn't I just say there's no such thing as originality? Well, the story you choose to retell, for one. There are loads of different versions of Beauty and the Beast and Snow White, and while some stand out (Jane Yolen's Briar Rose and Bill Willingham's Fables comics come to mind), there are way more mediocre versions. Try an awesome myth like Persephone, or Baba Yaga (chicken-leg houses!) or maybe a 90s TV show (I heard Felicity was really great).
Rule No. 3: You can't just add vampires and call it good
C'mon. Is that the best you can do? I'll admit it was probably difficult to take the original text of Romeo and Juliet and insert passages with vampires in a way that makes sense, but it really just smacks of trying to capitalize on the late paranormal publishing fever. What's next? Julius Caesar, emperor in the dystopian future?
So, what gives an old story new life for you? What are some of your favorites?