How Do You Take Your Retellings?

Writing a retelling, or a continuation story, or a variation, is hard work. First of all, you get the comments like, “can’t you come up with your own ideas?” This usually comes from non-creative types, so I’m just going to pass that one by.

A Pride and Prejudice modern retelling, a continuation, and a loose variation


What really makes writing a reimagining hard is worrying about the fans of the original. Because you know, deep down in your gut, that someone is going to be disappointed with what you did.
Recently I had a conversation with my mom about this. She’s a fan of the retellings that stick close to the original, that have the same feel. When they veer away from the original plot, or when they become too modernized for her taste, she doesn’t even finish reading.

Not so recently, I polled a Facebook group of writers about their opinions on retellings. Did they prefer them to stick close to the original, or just be the basic idea of the original. The response was a resounding: basic idea only. “The ghost of the original,” someone said.

Personally, I like the middle ground. I love to read retellings of all kinds. They’re like meeting a brand new person who you feel like you’ve known your whole life. They’re familiar, they’re fun, they’re often inventive, and they always make me smile.

Sway, a modern Persuasion retelling by Melanie Stanford

With SWAY, my modern-day retelling of PERSUASION, I stuck pretty close to the original. Too close in my early drafts, in fact. I had beta readers tell me that what the characters were doing made sense in Jane Austen’s time, but it didn’t make sense now. So I had to revise, and fix, and edit. The final product still rests on the side of sticking to the original rather than basic idea only. But for my second adult romance, a retelling of Elizabeth Gaskell’s NORTH & SOUTH (which is currently in limbo…), it’s not like the original AT ALL. In fact, I almost hesitate to call it a retelling. It’s more “inspired by.” For example, in N&S, one of the major plot points of the novel is the strike. In my book: no strike. In fact, my Thornton isn’t even his own boss.

I worry that readers will think I went way out in left field. I fear they’ll be disappointed. And yet, I retold the story the way I wanted to, and the way that felt authentic in a modern world.
I guess my question for you is, how do you like your reimagining’s—be they modern, continuation, or variation? I’m genuinely interested to hear others’ opinions on this.

I have a feeling everyone differs. But that’s what makes the variety of books out there, especially Jane Austen related, so great.

14 Responses

  1. Sheila L. M.

    I don’t read too many sequels but have found that when a friend can truly recommend a sequel or a series I will try it and have found some pleasure with those. I mainly like P&P variations and until about a year ago stuck with Regency…until Anji convinces me to try two modern ones and now I jump right on them. But I still like my P&P/Darcy and Elizabeth variations. As I read more and more I am much less picky about the characters having changed behaviors. As long as the author can write a good story around it. I also have broadened my tastes to some paranormal after Mary Lydon Simonsen convinced me to try Mr. Darcy’s Bite and even read the 3 books concerning P&P and Zombies. So I am widening my tastes…who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

    • Claudine Pepe

      Great points Sheila! The quality of the writing is paramount. You happen to be the person who introduced me to modern JAFF variations… Oh, what a wonderful reading world we live in!!

  2. Claudine Pepe

    It’s so funny to see this post because I’ve been thinking about this idea a lot, since quite a few of my recent reads have been modern/alternate era JAFF. Your points are well taken. I enjoy a story that’s not just a ghost, but that has some teeth in canon in some shapes and forms, or else for me, it reads like a story published as JAFF mainly for the purpose of its sales.

    I want Austen’s themes, values and characterizations to declare themselves across the JAFF that I love to read. I can understand most writers won’t capture her writing style or Regency English, but I prefer Austen’s essentials woven throughout my JAFF.

    Thanks for a post I know I’ll also enjoy rereading in the future.

  3. Abigail

    This is a question I thought about a lot several years ago, when I was writing my own modern adaptation. My personal preference is to stick as closely as possible to the personalities of the characters, and also as closely as possible to the broad themes of the original. It can be tough to do because of the cultural differences, but that’s the heart of the challenge for me! I chose to do a modern adaptation for two reasons: first, I adore Jane Austen’s language and ideas, and wanted to immerse myself in them; and second, I wanted a hook to help me think about plotting a novel. Working within a P&P framework, I was able to think about HOW the characters could get where they needed to go; it helped me understand structure.

    A lot of people prefer softer echoes of the original and a more contemporary feeling to a modern adaptation. I personally enjoyed the cognitive dissonance of telling a contemporary story in Jane Austen’s words; in fact, that dissonance was the source of most of the story’s humor. And it became a game with me to use as many of her words, sentences, and even paragraphs as possible without doing violence to the modern plot. But I was writing more for my own pleasure, not seeking to please a hypothetical audience; when a few people enjoyed the book, I was pleasantly surprised.

    The one time I really get offended as a reader is when the names of characters from a classic novel are used, but the personalities of those characters are completely changed. It’s fine when they start out in the same place as the original but go in different directions, but assigning beloved names to people who have no connection to the original seems like a cynical ploy. Fortunately, there seems to be a reader for every type of retelling imaginable!

    • Mira

      I think the fact that some authors change the personality of the characters gives a new point of view and with that a whole new story. I mean people change anyway and after reading dozens of variations where Caroline is not a nice person, and Mr Bennet is as neglecting as always, Mrs Bennet is just as annoying as always, for me it’s a pleasure to see that one can imagine a new personalities, new interactions, whole new plot. After all, these are variations. As long as the language and the style is true to Jane, I can forgive the personality change.

      What annoys me, is when someone writes a retelling, variation, fan fiction or call whatever, and basically tells the same story with the same words as Jane Austen. When I read any of this, the author doesn’t need to remind me to any of the original plot (any JA books) because I remember, I can recite. I want to read new things. (It’s different when they use some sentences; that can give an extra meaning, I’m a big fan of intertextuality.) Last week I read a book and it made me angry because the author wrote the plot of P&P and inserted about 3 original ideas – in three paragraphs – into the book. I can’t remember the title or the author and thank’s God it was kindle unlimited, because this is the first time in my life that I would have fling the book at author.

  4. Glynis

    I agree that the characters should be the same. Apart from that I have many historical, modern and in between variations on P&P and as long as Darcy is besotted with Elizabeth and she gets to be the same I’m happy 😊.

  5. Mira

    It’s very interesting to read that the plot in your draft didn’t make sense in the modern world. I remember when I read Sway, I was afraid and basically waiting for the moment when you “screw it up” by forcing the plot, and thinking about scenarios how you could avoid. The best part of the book was that you didn’t mess it up, plus at the same time it seemed quite natural to me, so very well done. I was thinking the whole time (and still think) that your are bloody brilliant because many author fall into that sort of trap and even if the book was well written or interesting, the tiniest plot faliure can ruin the whole book and that’s unpardonable in my eyes.

    Now, I’m excited read your new book, especially that you say you are not sure it’s a retelling. If it’s inspired by N&S, and the reader can recognize it, I suppose we can still call it a retelling. I really can’t wait now!

  6. Anngela Schroeder

    Great job, Melanie! Can’t wait to read Sway and recognize the characters from Persuasion. I’m more of a retelling girl. I love to see what new scenarios my favorite JA characters can live through while still staying true to their personalities (either real or misunderstood).

  7. Anji

    Like Sheila, I lean more to variations rather than sequels, though I have read some of those, too. As to era, I honestly don’t mind and as Sheila has said, I suggested that she might try some modern variations and then I see that she passed the favour on to Claudine. It’s a wonderful, friendly community we inhabit isn’t it?

    I’ve never minded having a bit of paranormal/time slip etc mixed in with my JAFF, as I’m also a sci-fi geek and am still waiting for Captain Wentworth to appear as captain of the starship Laconia or Fitzwilliam Darcy as captain of the Pemberley! Trust me, I have tried writing them down but time and, most importantly, lack of talent, means that these projects will almost certainly never see the light of day.

    So generally speaking, I’ll take my JAFF in most shapes and forms, as long as it’s well written and the characters and plots don’t venture too far from canon.

    Thank you to Meryton Press and all the authors for publishing such wonderful books for us to read. “Sway” is definitely on my Wish List, once I get my TBR List down to manageable proportions (says she, hopefully!).

    • Melanie Stanford

      Anji- you should check out the book FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS by Diana Peterfreund. It’s a YA Persuasion retelling sort of half sci-if half dystopian and a really good book. I loved it.

      • Sheila L. M.

        I have that book in paperback and read it a long time ago. I also have the sequel but for some reason or another can’t seem to get around to reading it.

  8. Anji

    Sorry, I hit the Submit button before I’d finished. I was going to go back and redraft the penultimate paragraph. I mentioned about the characters and plots “not venturing too far from canon”, when what I really meant was that “as long as the characters and plots are basically recognisable”. I don’t mind some of the plotlines deviating, such as Jane not ending up with Bingley, Caroline actually turning out well in the end or even name changes, BUT Darcy and Elizabeth HAVE to have their HEA eventually as do CFW and Anne. I couldn’t read a story if they didn’t.

    • Sheila L. M.

      Ditto to all that as to HEA BUT I also will not read variations that have Elizabeth sleeping with and/or marrying someone like Wickham or Mr. Collins. And I will also not read where she sells her body to support her family – don’t care how well that one ends up. It just goes against my morals, my principles.

      I have read ones in which she was married to someone else BEFORE she met Darcy…but not those two characters.

      • Anji

        I understand what you’re saying, Sheila. I haven’t yet read any JAFF where Elizabeth has been married to Wickahm or Collins before Darcy. I’m aware that it exists, but I’d find it quite a difficult concept to get my head around, even if it had happened before the book actually starts. Like you, marriage to others beforehand isn’t a problem for me. Pam Dixon has written at least a couple of different variations along those lines that I’ve read/listened to.