“If you are willing to do something that might not work, you’re closer to being an artist.”
—Seth Godin

Write a Sizzling Modern Adaptation of a Classic Story

Adaptations of classic stories are everywhere. Beyond the usual adaptations of Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth, some filmmakers and writers give more modern adaptations of the text. For example, everyone’s favorite teen movie of 1999, 10 Things I Hate About You, is based on William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.

Why write a modern adaptation of a classic story?

Modern Adaptation Pride and Prejudice

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is a modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Watch the Vlog here.

Last Wednesday, I found out that my feverish disposition and general exhaustion was due to pneumonia, so I didn’t work on Thursday. Instead, I followed the recommendation of an old high school friend and binge-watched the Lizzie Bennet Diaries on YouTube. It’s a modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice in which Lizzie has been reimagined as a 24-year-old grad student who is posting a vlog on YouTube as part of her thesis.

The other four Bennet siblings have been pared down to Jane and Lydia, Mr. Bingley is now an Asian med student named Bing Lee, and Mr. Darcy is now William Darcy, son of a media mogul and CEO of Pemberley Digital.

This isn’t the first time that Pride and Prejudice has been modernized for a different audience.  It was also given a horror twist in the form of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and of course, who can forget Hugh Grant and Colin Firth facing off in Bridget Jones’ Diary. 

Modernization vs. Straight Adaptation

Modernization is a type of adaptation, but shouldn’t be confused with a straight adaptation. Plenty of books have been adapted for film or television, but that typically (though not always) means the story and setting is kept faithful to the original work.

Modernized versions of works tend to play more with setting and characters, and the work that is given this treatment is generally in the public domain already, so creativity can flow freely without worries of copyright law.

Why Make a Modern Adaptation?

But why would you choose to modernize something that has already been written, instead of spending that energy creating something of your own?

Sometimes if you get stuck in a writer’s rut, turning to an existing plotline and set of characters and moving them to a setting that is the same as the setting of your work in progress can loosen up your mind and open up some creative space.

Maybe your new setting is perfect for a reimagining of As You Like It, or you’d like to see what Dorian Gray would be like if he lived in 1950s Tennessee. You might even find some great inspiration in the modernized version and keep that as a side project.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll be responsible for the next modern classic, or at least a version of Huckleberry Finn with swamp monsters.

What is your favorite modern adaptation of a classic story?

PRACTICE

Write a scene using characters and plot points from an existing public domain work, but use the setting of your current work in progress. Post your practice in the comments and leave notes for your fellow writers.

About Liz Bureman

Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.

  • Guest

    Nothing prepared Goldilocks’ controlling mother for the angst-filled shit storm of her teenage years. Her other daughter was mild and cooperative, a day at the beach compared to the second child. This one gave argument to everything: Too much make-up, curfews ignored, the length of her school uniform. Goldie was incurably boy-crazy, and this condition worried Mrs. Locks to no end. So did the watered down vodka and scotch in the liquor cabinet. All the threats and scare tactics that once kept this kid in check no longer had the same affect as when she was a little girl. Mrs. Locks tightened her grip on Goldie, and things got even nastier. Rebellion reared its ugly head and made them both hysterical.

    After Goldilocks’ sister got married, there seemed an acute imbalance of helplessness and chaos in the house. Of course, Goldie contributed to the bedlam in spades. At 20 years of age, she was like dangerously undercooked chicken. Looks okay on the outside, but don’t eat it.

    Goldie knew what boys liked and what guys wanted. But that’s the only comparison one could make to the ballsy superwoman in that song by the Waitresses. Although very accommodating, she was far from what one might consider a smooth operator. Goldilocks was just a numbskull who couldn’t say no. She’d do whatever it took to get attention. She wanted someone to love her but had no idea what that was supposed to look like. Mr. Locks was a good provider, but a crummy husband and a disinterested father. The only thing his wife did about her situation was complain about his behavior. There was no healthy frame of reference.

    The day Goldilocks stuffed all of her clothes into four garbage bags and waited on the stoop for someone to pick her up, Mrs. Locks called the police. When the cops arrived, they told her that she couldn’t make her daughter stay. Goldie drove off into the woods in a station wagon belonging to her friend’s brother.

    Goldilocks knew she’d never go back after she left home. If she did, her mother would probably kill her. She rented the front room in a basement owned by three unscrupulous bears, nine blocks from the house. Her first morning of freedom, she purchased a little metal pot to cook porridge and a spoon. She bought beer at the supermarket and wine at the liquor store. She moved a new boyfriend in almost immediately. As far as Goldie was concerned, everything was “just right”.

    What a dummy.

    My blog is here at: http://www.highwiregirl.blogspot.com.

  • Into The Woods…

    Nothing prepared Goldilocks’ controlling mother for the angst-filled shit storm of her teenage years. Her other daughter was mild and cooperative, a day at the beach compared to the second child. This one gave argument to everything: Too much make-up, curfews ignored, the length of her school uniform. Goldie was incurably boy-crazy, and this condition worried Mrs. Locks to no end. So did the watered down vodka and scotch in the liquor cabinet. All the threats and scare tactics that once kept this kid in check no longer had the same affect as when she was a little girl. Mrs. Locks tightened her grip on Goldie, and things got even nastier. Rebellion reared its ugly head and made them both hysterical.

    After Goldilocks’ sister got married, there seemed an acute imbalance of helplessness and chaos in the house. Of course, Goldie contributed to the bedlam in spades. At 20 years of age, she was like dangerously undercooked chicken. Looks okay on the outside, but don’t eat it.

    Goldie knew what boys liked and what guys wanted. But that’s the only comparison one could make to the ballsy superwoman in that song by the Waitresses. Although very accommodating, she was far from what one might consider a smooth operator. Goldilocks was just a numbskull who couldn’t say no. She’d do whatever it took to get attention. She wanted someone to love her but had no idea what that was supposed to look like. Mr. Locks was a good provider, but a crummy husband and a disinterested father. The only thing his wife did about her situation was complain about his behavior. There was no healthy frame of reference.

    The day Goldilocks stuffed all of her clothes into four garbage bags and waited on the stoop for someone to pick her up, Mrs. Locks called the police. When the cops arrived, they told her that she couldn’t make her daughter stay. Goldie drove off into the woods in a station wagon belonging to her friend’s brother.

    Goldilocks knew she’d never go back after she left home. If she did, her mother would probably kill her. She rented the front room in a basement owned by three unscrupulous bears, nine blocks from the house. Her first morning of freedom, she purchased a little metal pot to cook porridge and a spoon. She bought beer at the supermarket and wine at the liquor store. She moved a new boyfriend in almost immediately. As far as Goldie was concerned, everything was “just right”.

    What a dummy.

    My blog is here at: http://www.highwiregirl.blogspot.com.

    • Sandra D

      great job portraying Goldie’s character.

  • Funny, this subject has been on my mind. I have discussed a great challenge to consider to rewrite: Peter and the disciples responding to Jesus. How could the story be told from a human perspective of Peter responding to and answering to Jesus, his cousin who he has known much of his life? How did Peter’s failure and denial inspire him to carry the torch passed on?

    Risky rewrite for a lot of reasons, but thought provoking from our human perception that Peter represents.

    Consider the prospect that Peter found Judas’ betrayal possibly a greater act of faith which caused Peter to face a deep depression. It would offer a story line about why Peter was hypocritical in his life later in the church – one moment living and eating with Gentiles until his Jewish counterparts show up.

    There are many of my faithful friends who may find such an undertaking as blasphemy, but I believe it would offer a portal for the curious to see the human side of the biblical account for what it has to offer versus the traditional teachings of the church.

    Thoughts? Comments?

    What went through Peter’s mind when Andrew first drags him to find Jesus in the shade of the trees that lined the Jordan river after John the Baptist, his leader had just been sharing the good news? Was there a reluctance to change allegiance and loyalty? Wasn’t Jesus the same cousin who he skipped rocks with on the shore when they visited from Nazareth?

  • Sandra D

    the first scene of the hobbit:

    A large surly man knocked at a nice door in a nice neighborhood. The door creaked open. Will saw at his door a man who wore a top hat and a blue coat from a magic store a size too small. “They call me the wizard. Do you remember me?”

    “Um I don’t think so. I’m gonna go now.” Will starts to shut the door.

    “Wait! You are Willy of the Tolks.” Will opens the door again and looks at him surprised. “Who are you?” he looks at the strange man with curiousity.

    “And you are going to go on an adventure with me and my “dwarves.” The wizard winks at him. Will starts to close the door again, but the wizard slips his hand in the door jam.

    “You really don’t remember me?” the wizard asks squinting. Will shakes his head. “I used to bring the fireworks for your dad’s restaurant. You were just a kid but how you ran about cheering when I came by with that box. Will’s eyes flash for a second of remembering. “Ah I think you remember now. Anyway, you liked fun and adventure then. What happened to you?”

    “I don’t care for adventures. See this house? This neighborhood? This is a suberb, people like us don’t like adventures. I am going to college to be a doctor. Tomorrow and pretty much everyday I think I might die from studying. I don’t exactly have fun. But thanks anyway, if I see my dad soon I will let him know you stopped by.”

    The wizard stood there. “I want you to go now so I can close the door.” said Will.

    Well I will take my leave then. The wizard was a large man, of 6’3″ and looked like he was fond of beer and food that was heavy in carbs. He took a deep bow and floundered to get back up and then turned to leave. Will closed his door.

    After the door closed the Wizard turned around and walked quietly to the door and taped a joker card above the door bell. And then he turned back and walked to a blue Honda and drove off.

  • S.M. Sierra

    This is a short Prequel to my book, Molly Blue & The Quill of Two lives, in homage to Pride & Prejudice

    Shrewmona,sits outside of Nightingale Manor waiting for Ronda, if only she would hurry, I could make my escape from Mother, she thinks, as she glances over at the
    beautiful woman, with flame tresses, readying an easel and canvas to paint a
    portrait of her eldest daughter.

    Sighing she slowly rises, so as to not draw attention, takes one long stride, nearer to
    the door of the house, hoping her sister will make an appearance, and smiles,
    when the door is flamboyantly thrown open, by a tall girl with waist length
    brown hair, dressed in Elve garb, “Shrew, there you are, I was waiting for you
    upstairs. Then when you did not answer my knock, I figured you must be waiting
    for me, come on let us go—where is your broomstick?”

    “And just where do you think you are off to Miss Shrewmona Royal Faunt? You promised to sit for me.”

    “Oh Mother, we told you last evening we were flying over to see Shell today. Her
    brother Jacob and his new bride Chamomile, are having a small garden party at
    her family home, Crestille house… do not worry, he has only invited Pure-bloods,
    well their kin are Faerie, and he has invited some Pure-blood Elves as well,” Ronda
    pouts and then smiles, her violet eyes sparkling mischievously, for her sister’s
    benefit. She then stares at her Mother and says, “Paint Shinnolla, they are
    twins after all, and besides, she never achieves anything, except to sit at that
    piano all day trying to enchant the notes of the music into being corporeal. Why not pull your wand and bring it and her out here, which would make a grand portrait—place it right in front of your prize Rose bushes, yes quite lovely? Come on Shrew, it is rude to
    be unpunctual,” Ronda adds, for her mothers’ benefit, since she knows tardiness
    is one of her pet peeves. She then flourishes her wand, at the upstairs window,
    and her sisters’ broomstick comes barreling down into her out-stretched hand.

    “Good journey then, however, I want details regarding everything those Faerie have. Well you understand, all the little tidbits of that house, I heard it was quite fabulous.
    No mind though, be of the thought that you are of the Royal bloodline!” their
    mother haughtily states.

    “Yes Mother,” they spout in unison and then straddle their brooms and light out into
    the crisp morning air, just as a girl, dressed in a fluttery gold and green dress, comes skipping around the manor house, yelling, “Wait for me!”

    “Kitaunnia, you come back here this instant—you will not leave—dressed in that outfit!”

    “No time to change Maleficent, I do not want to be late…”

    “How many times have I verbalized to you—not to address me by my given name…?”

    “Apologies Mother dear, good day to you!” sixteen year-old, red haired Kitaunnia says as her broomstick achieves lift-off.

    Leaning into the broom she catches up to her sisters, shouting irritably, “Why did you
    leave without me, you know I am the invited guest, I only asked you to come
    along so that Maleficent would allow me to attend?”

    “I knocked on your door, as well as Shrews and neither of you answered therefore,
    when I saw that she was downstairs, I assumed you had left without us,” Ronda
    explains.

    “Why are you dressed in Faerie garb, more importantly, where did you acquire the
    garments?” Shrewmona reproachfully asks as she throws her youngest sister a
    look of scorn.

    Kitaunnia smiles wickedly, and delightfully says, “Yolie had them made for me, they are quite enchanting are they not, I just adore them, and I see no reason I should
    not wear them, as they were a gift from my best friend, who is of Faerie blood,
    which gave her the right to bestow them to me.”

    “I will wager you coerced her into doing so—the poor girl, will do anything you convey
    her to…”

    “That is an indelicate remark. For you, do not understand, she carries out my wishes,
    because, she is my friend—Shrew…”

    “Since, she is such a good friend then why did you not invite her?” twenty-one-year-old Ronda puts in.

    Exasperated, Kitaunnia, glances at her, spouting, “Of course Shell invited Yolie as well. However, her father has asked a coalition member home for dinner tonight, and requires her to hostess the meeting. It is for his invention, the Zenith Portal. He needs approval from the coalition to set up a council for the magical transport…”

    Shrewmona laughs cuttingly, “I highly doubt his invention will garner approval, for one
    thing that ridiculous mode of travel is dangerous, and for another, the broom manufacturers’ will never allow its use, since it will place their business in jeopardy. And half of them sit on the coalition—Sid has relayed as much to me,” she says, referring to her suitor, Mister Sidney McGregor, the heir to one of the wealthiest Elve families in the Magical Realm.

    “Shrew is correct, and I hate to be the bearer of solemn news—however Mister Ziagi,
    well his blood status is in question…”

    “He is pure Switcher—Ronda…”

    “Yes dear young one, nonetheless he was married to a Faerie, which you know is a
    lethal game breaker, not only in society but in business as well. People judge such things and comment harshly. Well, it is a bad reflection on a Magical beings standing, in societies eyes–everyone knows one must stick to their own blood kind in matters of matrimony, for their future children’s sake… and well, he cannot hide the fact that his daughter is a half-blood.”

    “Now you sound like Maleficent…spouting off her ideals as if they were your own. I
    am quite tired of it all, when I fall in love, I will marry whomever I like, no matter their blood kind!”

    Longing to reprimand her sister for her ignorance, she does it in a roundabout way, “And have no care, if your children are shunned, similar to your best friend—you
    have known her long enough to see the maltreatment she endures. I require
    knowing, how she feels, about your views, is she in agreement?” Ronda relays,
    pretty sure, she knows the answer.

    Kitaunnia stares into the distance studying the lush green landscape, irked, because she knows darn well Yolie’s sentiment about it, she dislikes the fact of her own
    two-blood nature, knowing she has not any hopes of a future alliance,
    matrimonial wise. And it saddens her extremely, every time she hears about her
    friends desire, to live, out-side societies restraints, “It is of no matter. Neither
    to her nor to anyone. It will be my choice—anyway, I am not even sure I want
    children. Nonetheless, whomever I marry—and if I ever decide to have children,
    we are Immortal—therefore, I have the option to wait to have them, when they
    are accepted. Besides, this entire conversation may be for naught, I may fall
    in love with an Elve…”

    “If ever a time comes when it is accepted, which I hardly see transpiring, I fancy
    none of it!” Ronda calls out and shudders at the thought.

    “Prejudice, my dear sister, is a rotten thing to harbor inside of oneself—it not only harms others, it is capable of affecting your being as well,” Kitaunnia unwittingly
    foretells.

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  • “Cinderella! Get down here this instant!” I heard my step-mother scream, waking me up. I rubbed my eyes and swung my feet over the side of the bed, glancing at the alarm clock. It read 6:30 This is ridiculous. Doesn’t Lady Tremaine know that I was up until the break of dawn waiting for Anastasia and Drucilla to get back from their ‘study group.’ Also known as wild party. I slipped on some slippers and grudgingly walked down the long, winding staircase to the kitchen where, without a doubt, Lady Tremaine was waiting for me to make breakfast. I reached the bottom of the stairs and was greeted by Lady Tremaine shoving a grocery list in my face.

    “What took you so long?” she yelled angrily. “I need you to go to the store and get every single thing on this list,” I sighed. It was definitely not a short list.

    “Can’t it wait until after breakfast?”

    “Fine. But as soon as you finish cooking you will drag your ass to Jewel whether you want to or not!” I sighed in a silent rage. Dad will be home soon then everything will be alright.

    “Yes Lady Tremaine. Of course Lady Tremaine. I’m going to spit in your food Lady Tremaine,” I snarled under my breath. Not loud enough for her to hear the words, but she heard the sound and whipped around.

    “What was that?”

    “Nothing Lady Tremaine,” I began working on the homemade french toast Lady Tremaine had demanded I made last night. I wasn’t sure what gave her the right to boss me around like that. She was the Step-mother. The horrible, evil, wench of a step-mother. I knew that if I did’t do as she said she’d either a) throw me out on the streets, or b) call my dad and make him get into I’m-so-disappointed-in-you mode. Frankly I didn’t know which one was worse.

    I finished the french toast (and may have spit in Lady Tremaine’s coffee) then pressed the button that would broadcast my voice to Anastasia and Drucilla, both of whom hadn’t risen from their alcohol induced slumbers.

    “Ana, Dru!” I yelled into the speaker. “Breakfast is ready!” It took a few minutes but they eventually emerged in their matching pink and green silk nightgowns. Their hair was strewn in every angle, they both still had the previous days smudged make up on, and they squinted at the dim kitchen lights. Neither of them were even mildly attractive. Ugly, pinched faces, big feet, and the egos to match.

    “Why the hell did you wake us up so early?” Anastasia whined, plopping down on the kitchen booth. I smirked slightly.

    “Your mother instructed me to call you two down for breakfast,” Drucilla glared at me and I gave her a sickly sweet smile and I dropped the plate of french toast on the table.

    “Your not going to put their juice on the table?” Lady Tremaine asked. I gritted my teeth and grabbed the juice then practically threw it at the table. The two ugly step sisters snarled at me, Lady Tremaine left the room to go watch her soap operas and Drucilla flipped me off. They then fell into their own conversation.

    “So, Dru, what are you wearing to Charming’s party?” curiosity got the best of me and I stopped washing the dishes for a moment to listen to their conversation.

    “I’m going to wear that beautiful emerald green, sparkly dress mom ordered me for my birthday, what about you?”

    “I’m going to wear the one shouldered, bright pink one we found at American Eagle last week,” at this Drucilla squeals and leaps up. Anastasia smiles. “Let’s go look at it!” they left their empty plates on the table and flew to Ana’s room. I collected their plates and threw them into the sink. A party, huh? I wouldn’t mind a good party.