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Question: so, what is the procedure when doing a retelling of not-a-folktale? I've read a lot of retellings of folk or fairy tales, and they are sort of public domain stories. But what about say, a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice? (Of which there are TONS.) Phantom of the Opera? Alice in Wonderland (have seen a few of those, too)? The Nutcracker? (I think there's one of those out there, but I haven't read it.) I'm thinking of something set in an entirely different world than the original, but where the underlying bones of the referenced story are visible. Is this the sort of thing where you have to get special clearance? Or can you be obvious and state your source and be quits that way? I see a lot of these books and have always wondered... (plus obviously I have an idea for one--if such a thing is viable).
#1 - April 25, 2014, 11:16 AM

I think the story you are retelling needs to be in the public domain if you don't have explicit consent from whomever you'd need it from.
#2 - April 25, 2014, 11:58 AM
Robin

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Pretty much anything written in the 19th century is in the public domain (but not certain letters, journals, or a few other categories). Anything written in the 20th century before 1920 is probably O.K. to use (but check).

But whatever you're thinking of using--double check! Get copies from the library of the original or of knock-offs and see what the authors say in the acknowledgements, notes, or whatever. Or use the internet to trace it down. If someone owns the rights, you have to get permission. If it's the public domain, you can pretty much do what you want. You might mention the story you've based your novel on in your cover letter.

When I first wrote CINDER EDNA, my editor told me to be sure to base my version on the story by Perrault, which IS in the public domain--and not to use anything from the Disney version. If you want to use a popular story, you should do the same. Do not borrow anything from a modern version of the story, be it a movie or sequel or anything like that.
#3 - April 25, 2014, 12:23 PM
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What Betsy said.

Refer to source material only, nothing newer.
#4 - April 28, 2014, 11:50 AM
Website: http://www.debbievilardi.com/
Twitter: @dvilardi1

Honestly, it depends on how close the story line is, I believe. Let's face it: Most plots are pretty darn similar when you get down to the bones of a story. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, love triangle, that sort of thing. It doesn't matter if it is public domain or not. You can't copyright that sort of thing. But if you steal the exact plot and rename the characters? Probably a different thing. Also career suicide. (I'm an attorney, but I don't do copyright law, so this is just my opinion.)
#5 - May 12, 2014, 09:20 AM

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I wrote a re-telling -- an updated version of a Mary Stewart book.  I did look around to see how it all stands, but the most I heard was that if it's different enough, you don't need permission.  (Also, Stewart originally wrote the book in the '60s -- don't know if that made a difference or not.)

But look at TEN by Gretchen McNeil (re-telling of TEN LITTLE INDIANS) and GHOST FLOWER by Michelle Jaffe (re-telling of THE IVY TREE by Mary Stewart).  In Jaffe's, there wasn't even a hint that she took the basic story from Stewart -- in fact, when I mentioned it in my book review (simply commenting on how much I enjoyed it because she'd based it on TIT), I had people express surprise...and there were no mentions of it on Goodreads, either.  So either it doesn't matter when the story is just different enough (even if pretty obviously based on something) or those books were written long enough ago that it doesn't matter?
#6 - May 12, 2014, 09:39 AM
Robin
Unspun: A Collection of Tattered Fairy Tales: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BSR6CPJ/
Website: www.robinprehn3r.com

White Cat is a retelling (very loosely inspired)
by a russian (?) fairy tale too!
#7 - May 12, 2014, 10:45 AM
Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow: 4/28/09)
Fury of the Phoenix (Greenwillow: 3/30/11)
Serpentine (Month9Books: 9/1/15)

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Well, Fifty Shades of Grey certainly got away with it...!
 
Robin, did you finish that Mary Stewart-esque story? I really liked the beginning.
#8 - May 12, 2014, 10:45 AM
The Leland Sisters series: Courtship and Curses, Bewitching Season, Betraying Season (Holt BYR/Macmillan)
www.marissadoyle.com
www.nineteenteen.com

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I was going to mention 50 Shades ;)

I did finish it, Marissa, though it needs some work.  Thanks so much for the kind words (and if you're ever bored and want to read it all, let me know -- it needs some fresh eyes someday!) :)
#9 - May 12, 2014, 11:17 AM
Robin
Unspun: A Collection of Tattered Fairy Tales: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BSR6CPJ/
Website: www.robinprehn3r.com

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I think there is a difference between being inspired by a story and retelling it. Inspiration can come from anywhere and may not be obvious in the final product. There are no legal implications for it for this reason. To me, a retelling is somewhat different in that it follows the basic plot of the original - see every Cinderella picture book and a few novels. Some of the items mentioned above sound more like the "inspired by" category.
#10 - May 12, 2014, 11:56 AM
Website: http://www.debbievilardi.com/
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One of the ones I mentioned follows the original plot VERY closely -- they're practically identical in many ways (which was how I knew who the 'killer' was after the first two pages -- I recognized the other plot right away).  But maybe if you're using different characters (ie, teens rather than adults in their 20s), a different setting, and a different time, that all helps push it into the inspiration category?
#11 - May 12, 2014, 02:34 PM
Robin
Unspun: A Collection of Tattered Fairy Tales: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BSR6CPJ/
Website: www.robinprehn3r.com

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New!
At the finer levels, the distinction is a legal question.

I've stolen entire characters from TV shows, but I surrounded them with characters I made up and changed history effecting the world and their view of it. In other words, events helped develop the characters into people they wouldn't have become. No one would know I stole them or from where. That's inspiration.

Taking the entire plot and characters but changing the character ages and setting is retelling. The story is essentially the same. That's why it was easily recognized.

A story written in the sixties is still likely to be under copyright by the original author or the estate. 
#12 - May 19, 2014, 10:30 AM
« Last Edit: May 26, 2014, 07:06 PM by Debbie Vilardi »
Website: http://www.debbievilardi.com/
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Very interesting...when I retold the book, I changed quite a few things -- and I'd say the published book (published by one of the big five) is much more similar to its original form, yet there isn't even a mention (at all) of the original (to acknowledge it in any way).
#13 - May 19, 2014, 12:04 PM
Robin
Unspun: A Collection of Tattered Fairy Tales: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BSR6CPJ/
Website: www.robinprehn3r.com

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