Editors and agents are forever telling writers to give us something fresh, something new, something we haven’t seen before. But then again, you don’t want to be too different. Because there still has to be a kernel of familiarity in there to remain accessible to the readers.
I was so excited about the new version of Robin Hood with Russell Crowe because I thought it would be the perfect balance of a familiar story with a new twist—billed as a prequel to the Robin Hood legend we all know. Unfortunately, after reading a number of tepid reviews, it’s unlikely I’ll go see the movie. The key elements of what makes Robin Hood so enjoyable—namely the slightly cocky attitude and the genuine sense of fun—seem to be missing from the movie. I have no problem with gritty, but it also needs to be balanced with light.
So the lesson here: If you’re going to take a familiar theme and twist it, first figure out the main elements of what makes that theme so popular and enjoyable. Keep those! Then twist the character or the setting or add an unexpected piece from another recognizable theme or story.
Figuring out these elements will then making pitching your project a breeze. “It’s this but with a dash of that and set in there.” Of course, once you come up with the right juxtaposition you have to deliver.
One project I recently acquired is a perfect example. At the moment, we’re tentatively calling it NO PROPER LADY (April 2011) and it’s by debut author Isabel Cooper. The juxtaposition: “Terminator” meets “My Fair Lady.” Every time I say it in the office, people raise their eyebrows, but they always want to hear more.