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Improbability is in the Details
Abra Staffin-Wiebe's Journal
Intertextuality and Originality 
11th-Aug-2013 04:53 pm
One of the things I learned this year about sitting on panels at conventions is that preparation helps me a lot, if only psychologically. I think the 4th Street panel followed the topic of discussion most closely and most (though certainly not all) of the examples and points I'd thought of became relevant. For the CONvergence panels, this certainly wasn't the case. I'm not sure yet how much of those notes I'll be posting, since I used probably only about a quarter of them as a basis for discussion!

My first panel was Intertextuality and Originality, at 4th Street Fantasy. (It was the first panel the morning after the power went out. There was still no electricity.)
No book exists independent of the literary conversation, no matter how much its author may want it to. Elizabethan faeries are inevitably going to compared to each other, just like dark lords, destined heroes, and vampire-werewolf-mortal love triangles will. Given that very little authors can do will seem novel to experienced readers, how should they approach topics that many readers have been conditioned to read in a certain light? How can works that aim to deconstruct cliches avoid being read as "just X from Y's perspective"?
Lynne Thomas (M), Tappan King, Chris Modzelewski, Abra Staffin-Wiebe

Dinosaur rides on a bike fueled by the bones of his enemies! Ahem. Anyway.

Examples that work:

Blood Oranges - Caitlin R. Kiernan writing as Kathleen Tierney

The author directly addresses the reader in foreword to tell them that despite being a vampire novel, this is not a romance, it is unhappy and unpleasant, and she is taking back the "language of the night."

The protagonist also directly addresses pop culture preconceptions in-story to say, "It's not like that."

Cinder - Marissa Meyer

It is very obvious from start that is a different kind of book of Cinderella retelling, simply because of the genre switch from fantasy to SF about a cyborg

The title and a few thematic elements call back to Cinderella, but it is very definitely telling its own story.

The author may have started out with an advantage because at this point, readers almost expect fairytale retellings to stretch different ways.

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow - Jessica Day George

This pulls similar elements together in a way not usually combined, referencing "East of the Sun and West of the Moon," "The Snow Queen," and Narnia.

Adding a lot of cultural depth and worldbuilding is a great way to go with fairy tales. It can make them feel more real and true.

Twilight - Yes, I think it works as a reinvention of the vampire genre even though I personally can't read it (I dislike the main character soooo much!).

It broke vampire cannon, but still satisfied rules because it kept all the "new" romantic urban fantasy conventions.

It also took a high school outsider narrative and combined it with a bad-boy romance, which was what a lot of the readers enjoyed most.


Folk stories and fairy tales have multiple elements that can shift to resonate with the times. Bring out things ignored previously that resonate NOW.

What's the unique part that really resonates with you, that makes you want to explore the story? Bring that forward.

Balance what you're putting in and what you're taking out.

Don't get more invested in telling a TYPE of story than the story you have in front of you.

Retellings can be great for constructing story structure.

Don't forget to put in initial cues to tell reader what filter they should be reading with! They don't have to be huge, but little bits to keep readers from building the wrong expectations.

...aaaand that's all, folks!

All posts from 4th Street 2013: http://cloudscudding.livejournal.com/tag/4th%20street%20fantasy%202013
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