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Retellings in Romance

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! Finally, the big day has come back around. The one day of the year where passion reigns and everyone lets their romantic side run wild.

While we can’t be sure how the holiday of flowers, chocolate and romance truly came to be, there’s no denying that the legend is far more intriguing… According to some sources, Valentine himself was an imprisoned Roman priest, put to death for carrying out marriages that had been banned. Some historians even argue that while he was in prison, he healed and fell in love with the jailor’s daughter, leaving a final note to her, signed ‘from your Valentine.’

So, in honour of Valentine’s Day and our love of stories, let’s explore some of our favourite mythological figures of love who are ready to be retold. 

What are Retellings?

Since we’ve already looked at creating a fractured fairytale, let’s take a deeper look at romance retellings. Retellings are where writers take on a well-known narrative, adding their own unique spin to give it a brand new lease of life. Retellings can take a number of forms:

  • Bringing a historical plot into the modern day, or vice versa.
  • Placing a well-known character and plot into a brand new setting.
  • Introducing paranormal elements into a classic tale.

You need an excellent understanding of the original stories or events you’re basing the retellings on. On the other hand, there are no limits to where the story could take you! While romantic retellings must have a romance at its core, this doesn’t mean that the road to true love has to run smooth.

Because retellings rely on injecting new ideas into a well-known narrative, you can add conflict, drama and pacing to keep the momentum moving forward. They rely on the writer asking the ultimate ‘what if?’; what if the roles were reversed in Sleeping Beauty, and Prince Charming needed rescuing? What if the Queen of Hearts stepped out of Wonderland and into our world?

“Retellings are where writers take on a well-known narrative, adding their own unique spin to give it a brand new lease of life.”

Fairytales, historical figures and the classics are an amazing place to start. Above all other sources, myths and legends are jam-packed with passion, infidelity and drama. They’ve got the perfect ingredients for romance.

We all know about Valentine’s Day, but let’s take a look at some other mythological figures of love that deserve a retelling.

Santes Dwynwen from Wales

Often known as the ‘Welsh Valentine’s Day’, this holiday is celebrated throughout Wales on the 25th of January. Dwynwen was the beautiful daughter of King Brychan Brycheiniog, who falls in love with a young man called Maelon.

In one variation of the tale, the King disapproves of Maelon and Dwynwen’s relationship, forbidding their marriage. In desperation, Dwynwen escapes to the woods, where she prays to forget her love, causing an angel to freeze Maelon into a block of ice.

There are many versions of this legend, but what we love most about this version is that Dwynwen takes centre stage. Add a setting infused with a rich heritage, a wealth of folklore and an air of magic, and you’ll be on to a winner.

Yeu-Lao from China

While this figure isn’t associated with a particular holiday, Yue-Lao — or the ‘Old Man Under the Moon’ — is a particularly important figure in Chinese mythology.

According to legend, Yea-Lao is the figure responsible for establishing soulmates. He ties ‘the red string of fate’ to the ankles of all future lovers, connecting them for eternity. This thread can twist and tangle but can never be broken.

But what if something went disastrously wrong? What if Yea-Lao disappeared, leaving soulmates over the world broken hearted? What if an unbreakable red thread did break, and it was up to your characters to find one another again?

Not only are there endless plot possibilities, but setting the story in China, where the legend originates from, gives any reader an opportunity to explore a location they may never have a chance to visit. 

Aphrodite from Ancient Greece

Long, long before Valentine came around, there was the one and only lover; Aphrodite. Goddess of beauty and love, Aphrodite was not a figure to be messed with.

Jealous, vain and repeatedly unfaithful to her husband, she found pleasure wherever she could take it, taking on a number of immortal and mortal lovers.

Many of us have seen the painting of her Roman counterpart rising from the sea in a giant shell (aka, making an amazing entrance), but this Goddess wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. After all, it was her feud with Hera and Athena that sparked the Trojan War.

What would happen if she was brought into the modern day? How would she navigate dating apps, self-love and the changing nature of femininity in the 21st century? If you’ve got an interest in Greek or Roman mythology, there’s endless fun to be had with this goddess.

Freya from Norse Mythology

Thanks to the influx of superhero movies, Norse mythology is right back in the mainstream! While everyone knows who Thor and Loki are, not quite as many people are familiar with the Norse goddess of love, sex and beauty, Freyja.

Freyja is a particular favourite of ours for so many reasons. Not only the kindest of the Norse goddesses, but she takes in those who have died in battle, rides a chariot pulled by cats, and was the guardian of seiðr, an ancient and powerful form of sorcery. What’s not to love?

Freyja was also said to reside over Fólkvangr or ‘the Field of Folk’. Though, she could step into the mortal realm to answer the prayers of those who needed it. Why not inject a bit of magic into our world with this Scandinavian goddess?

Finding a Tale to Tell

The first step to any retelling, no matter the source, is research. Even the most well-known stories have another side to them, and it just may be one worth telling. 

On top of this, you’ll need to know the original subject material inside and out. After all, how can you recreate something if you don’t know how it was created in the first place? 

While retellings do need a lot of research, they can be an excellent starting place if you’re struggling to find that spark of an idea. So many writers get hung up on the notion that your idea has to be totally original, something that no-one has ever written before. This Valentine’s Day, why not take a step back from convention and see which stories you can bring to life?

It’s also important to remember the cultural significance of any story you choose to retell. Mythological figures and legends are inextricably linked to a place, so research is also key to making sure you do not appropriate a culture or cause offence. 

 

Stories survive because they tap into an idea that resonates with those who hear or read, no matter the time in which they’re living in.

Regardless of the elements you change from the original, there must be some thread that connects your narrative to the one that readers already know.

“You’ll need to know the original subject material inside and out. After all, how can you recreate something if you don’t know how it was created in the first place?”

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