Jilly: Creative Re-Writing

Creative Re-writingHave you ever read or watched a story that frustrated you so much you re-wrote it in your head the way you wanted it?

I was still at school the first time it happened to me. A friend lent me Gone With The Wind, and since even then I was a committed lover of the happy ending, she assured me that everything turned out okay in the end. I sobbed through the final chapters waiting for the reversal that never came. I dealt with it by imagining my own version of the story, and I’ve never re-read the original since. I’m still on speaking terms with the ‘friend’ who caused my book trauma, but it was touch and go for a while.

I’ve been revisiting the question this week following a trip to the ballet. I went to see a new re-telling of Frankenstein, expecting it to be brilliant. It could/should have been. The creator was the talented and musical young English choreographer Liam Scarlett. There was a brand new score by one of America’s best-known living composers, Lowell Liebermann. Brilliant dancers. Good lighting. Great sets. And it was all for nothing, because the narrative didn’t work. I think the plan was to stay true to the source material, which was never going to fly with only a couple of hours’ worth of stage time. Neither Frankenstein nor the Creature got the character development they deserved, which meant I didn’t care what happened to them. I even cheered inside when the backdrop turned flame-red, because it meant the evening was almost over. I spent the tube journey home creating storyboards in my head.

Twilight was another one. I was team Jacob all the way. Obviously he wasn’t going to get the girl, and I was okay with that, but I really disliked the way Stephenie Meyer resolved the Bella-Edward-Jacob triangle (I doubt this would bother her over-much, just sayin’).

And Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. Have to confess that I loved sparkly, attractive Henry Crawford and I thought Fanny Price would have had a much more entertaining life with him than with stodgy, righteous old Edward.

If I hadn’t given up on Stephanie Plum, I’d have made her choose between Morelli and Ranger long ago. (Pretty sure Janet Evanovich doesn’t agree 😉 ).

And I didn’t so much re-write Dorothy Dunnett’s Gemini as scream at my own stupidity and story blindness. I read and loved her six-volume series the Lymond Chronicles, set in sixteenth-century Europe, so when I’d finished I naturally started on The House of Niccolo, an eight-book series set in the late fifteenth-century Renaissance Europe. The hero is a talented boy of uncertain birth who schemes his way to dizzy success in merchant banking and politics. The geographical and political scope is ambitious. The hero is more morally ambiguous than Lymond, but no less fascinating. I read to the end expecting the same satisfying conclusion and discovered all too late that the entire point of the whole series is that it’s a prequel to the Lymond Chronicles. Gah. I wanted a new story, not the same one, so I ignored all the signals. The blurb on Amazon calls the book Dorothy Dunnett’s ‘piece de resistance.’ In my house, it was a wallbanger.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who indulges in a little creative re-writing. From memory, I think Jenny Crusie told us in class that Patricia Gaffney became a novelist because she hated the ending of a book she’d otherwise loved, so she wrote a new version of it for herself. Hope I got that right. Turned out okay for her.

So, how about you? What stories would you change or have you mentally re-written? What was it about the story that wound you up?

12 thoughts on “Jilly: Creative Re-Writing

  1. I have absolutely done that for books that didn’t quite hit the spot. In some cases there are stories I re-read but skip the parts I don’t like and other stories with endings that just didn’t work for me. For the later, I mentally rewrite them and rarely ever re-read them.

    The most recent case was one of the current Rachel Gibson books (I think I mentioned it in the recent Wednesday reading post). The hero was battling a drinking problem while figuring out how to deal with his attraction to his attractive neighbor. There were bits a pieces woven into the story that could have built to a very satisfying ending (to me), but the author went in a different direction and I was left feeling annoyed rather than vicariously basking in the happy ending.

    If a story is good but the ending doesn’t work for me, I may re-read it, but mentally insert my own ending. It’s completely different if the story as a whole doesn’t work,. Those just generally get tossed into the library donation box, though I may play around with the story in my head for a while if I have any ideas about how I think it could work.

    • You reminded me that I also skip the parts I don’t like and mentally change details that don’t do it for me, like moustaches – unless it fits the story because the hero is a cowboy or other outdoorsy hunk, say, I’m removing the facial hair.

      I was just about to say I’m not sure I’d want to read a hero with a drinking problem, but I just remembered Catherine Anderson’s Baby Love, which I read a very, very long time ago, in which a good guy who’s gone to hell and become a drunken vagabond because Backstory rescues a pregnant and desperate heroine and finds a reason to clean up his act.

  2. I don’t know if I really do that — my stories seem to veer quite quickly away from the original plotline. I’ve never written fan fic because I don’t know if I could ever color inside the lines properly. At least with my own story, I don’t have to.

    I know I do keep coming back to themes and ideas — sometimes to right the wrongs that have been committed by ham-fisted writers, but more often just because there needs to be more in that trope. I like stuff with gods who come to earth and have to deal with the 21st century. I like ghost stories. I really like mediums. I like good witches, too.

    (-: I could be perfectly happy re-writing “I Dream of Jeannie”, “Bewitched” and “Gilligan’s Island”. I’ll leave the Brady Bunch re-writes for someone else to tackle; not really my cup of tea.

  3. I’d certainly make Stephanie Plum choose between Morelli and Ranger, but only an idiot would choose Morelli. 🙂 I loved Gone with the Wind; I read it under the covers until 6am one night when I was in high school or maybe junior high. I don’t remember being disappointed in the end, I think partly because I thought that the ending wasn’t really the end of the story—that Rhett and Scarlett would keep dancing around each other into perpetuity.

    I can’t say that I rewrite endings much in my head. I think I probably have done, because Probably, although I don’t remember specific examples. I remember more books that hit the wall when I was in the middle, Outlander being the much-discussed example there. But I think I might not get to bad endings very much because maybe something telegraphs earlier in the book? I give up on novels really fast if I get bored, don’t like where they’re going, or something twings me funny.

    • Funny what you said about giving up fast, Kay, because long ago, when I bailed out on Stephanie, Morelli was a sexy, snarky good guy and Ranger was just there as a hot, rich, shadowy foil for Morelli. I liked Morelli, so I’m kind of sad to learn that he turned into an asshat.

      You got to the end of Sookie Steakhouse, though, and enjoyed it, right? I remember you thought the ending was signalled early and you were surprised that it caught so many people out, and not in a good way. I think a lot of readers reacted to that the way I did with Gemini 😉 .

      • Not to grind poor Stephanie Plum’s romantic interests into the ground, but Morelli didn’t really turn into an asshat, so I apologize to all the Morelli fans. He more or less stayed the same, which was a sexy, snarky good guy, emphasis on the good, who did his best to keep Steph out of trouble. Ranger, however, morphed into a guy who helped her succeed. Besides the car schtick, he taught her to shoot, tried to get her to exercise, gave her work, protected her when she needed it, provided backup, lent her his henchmen, helped her catch bad guys, and worked on her nutrition (to little success, of course). He helped her become a better person and a better bond enforcer. Ranger comes in before the action to minimize the damage; Morelli comes in after to clean up. Plus, Ranger’s still hot, rich, and dark, so I’m Ranger all the way.

        • Morelli wasn’t precisely an asshat (at least when I gave up on the series), but he was definitely number one for Morelli. Stephanie’s needs and interests needed to be subordinated. I agree completely with Kay about Team Ranger. He did help her grow!

          But at the point where I left, it was obvious that neither one loved her enough to really commit and make her a better person, so I think for a happy ending, the best bet is to introduce Contestant Number Three — someone who can do for her all of the Morelli and the Ranger things. I mean, if I were writing things. I’d probably make the fans insane (-:. “Why did you kill Morelli? And Ranger? And why such a bloodbath?”

  4. I can certainly sympathise with you, Jilly. Someone once told me a film had a happy ending because they wanted me to go to the cinema with them to watch it. That particular person knew I would not go to see a film with a sad ending! I knew it was film noir – Build My Gallows High, if memory serves correct – so perhaps should not have been so astonished and devastated when the hero and heroine did not (as I’d been expecting for the previous 90 mins) sail off into the sunset together!

    • That’s so mean, Rachel. I hope you made them pay an extortionate penalty for their deception – a whole season of sappy rom-coms and fluffy chick-flicks or something equally upbeat!

    • Rachel, I once got conned into going to an Ingmar Bergman film (I’m not sure which one—maybe Cries and Whispers), which I’d said I wouldn’t see because Ingmar Bergman films are always so depressing. And she said, oh, this one is different. I’ve read the reviews, it’s cheerful, a happy ending! So I go, and the very first shot in the film is a hyper-closeup of a person’s lips—that’s all, across all the screen, just the lips—and they’re chapped and all, and the person is breathing very slowly and with obvious pain, gasping, and with long, long pauses between inhale and exhale. You think she’s going to die right there in the first 10 seconds. So I laughed, really hard, and the usher came and said I had to shut up or get out because I was disturbing the other patrons. Yeah, that movie probably was going to have a happy ending, for an Ingmar Bergman film.

      It just shows you really have to know what people like to trust their recommendations.

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