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Posts Tagged ‘status quo’

I’ve been thinking about retellings.

A few years ago I wrote a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and I’ve recently started a new novel that is also a retelling. I’ve done a few short story retellings as well.

So yeah, my sample size isn’t all that big. But just large enough to give me food for thought.

Anyway, what I find in retellings is that things tend to get dark. And I’m inevitably a bit surprised when this happens. Originally I meant for the Beauty and the Beast retelling to be on the light side, maybe even a little frothy, which blows my mind now, because that is not how I’d categorize that novel at all. It is, in many ways, a dark book, and in order to write it, I had to explore some pretty dark places. In fact, before I’d even started writing the rough draft, I realized it was going to be really dark, which changed some of my plans for the story.

And now, with this new retelling, I am finding some similar darkness. Not as much, I don’t think, but again, this wasn’t supposed to be a dark story at all.

Now, you might be saying, well, maybe it’s you, Amy. Maybe you are drawn to making your stories dark. And that is a valid point.

But I also think I don’t recognize the darkness at the beginning of working on a retelling because the original story is familiar. It doesn’t feel dark. It feels like the way the story goes. It feels normal.

And it’s only when I delve further into the story elements, when I start weaving them into a logical world and a logical story, that I began to realize that something in the story that I am accustomed to is actually pretty messed up. And even when I’m working with something like Beauty and the Beast, which doesn’t take a lot of analysis before its dark side shows up (Stockholm Syndrome, anyone?), I find more dark sides underneath the obvious one that I wasn’t necessarily expecting.

Photo Credit: alfamosa via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: alfamosa via Compfight cc

This is like real life. When we’re used to something, we are less likely to interrogate it. We are less likely to realize it might not actually be normal or that it might not actually be okay. It’s just the way things are, right? And the weirdness or the darkness or the dysfunction becomes invisible, or at least really hard to see.

We see this effect all the time, both personally and systemically. We see it in dysfunctional families when the child doesn’t realize there’s any other way for a family to be. We see it in learned helplessness. We see it in all kinds of dysfunctional interpersonal relations and in thought patterns as well.

And we see it in broader strokes when we look at the way racism and sexism and classism (and other kinds of prejudice) shape American society today. We see it in the myths that allow these institutional injustices to be perpetuated, stories that allow people to ignore the underlying violence that leads to such inequality. We see it in the things we notice on our own versus the things we need pointed out to us.

But just like in writing, through interrogation and empathy, we can challenge what we think we know. And through retelling, we can see other sides of the same old story.

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