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How Adapting Old Stories Beats Creating New Ones

ShakespeareShakespeare did it. So did Disney, Spielberg, and Hitchcock. They and many other great dramatic greats turned old stories into new classics. We recommend the same process for your students.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with coming up with a brand new story based entirely on our own experiences and imagination. But here are four solid reasons for encouraging students to adapt  material for their video projects.

• QUALITY: Especially for novices, an adapted story will come out better than an original story. Because the original provides help with plotting, characterization, and structure, the writer can pay more attention to refining details and language. It is not surprising that 34 of Shakespeare’s 37 plays were based on earlier works.

• SKILL BUILDING: In the process of adapting, your students will learn the basic storytelling elements  in a hands-on, almost intimate way.

• CONTENT MASTERY: Translating a story from one form to another is a powerful way to learn what the original says. Consider the kind of attention needed to turn a poem—such as Emily Dickenson’s—into a story.

• AUDIENCE INVOLVEMENT: When the audience is familiar with the original material—for example, a fable—they will be leaning forward to see how the adapter handled the story: what was kept the same, what was changed, which version is more entertaining or more truthful to the underlying theme.


If you agree that adapting is worth doing, here are some tips that make contribute to a project’s success and value:

1. Keep it short. Avoid long originals, whose complexity can be overwhelming, resulting in shallow work. There is a vast supply of short forms including short stories, songs, comic strips, fables, jokes, poems, and parables.

2. Update older works. Just as many Shakespeare plays have been modernized, students can have fun updating Aesops fables and fairy tales.  For example, in adapting “The Hare and the Tortoise”  the Hare could be riding a spiffy racing bike and the tortoise could chug along on a tricycle.

3. Make the dialogue original. Putting new words in old characters’ mouths will be challenging.

4.  Change the tone: Transforming a tragedy into a comedy or a comedy into a tragedy can provide lots of creative opportunities. As an example, think about the movie Airplane, which was based on a  very serious thriller.


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