Putting Your Own Spin on a Legend
I’m a pantser, not a plotter, so the story develops as I go. When a scene came to mind of wounded man fleeing his enemies, I didn’t know who he was, why he was running or who was after him.
Eventually he let me know he was a Knight of the Round Table. Hmmm. I’d have to take on the legend of King Arthur (KA) and his knights. A daunting task, because many readers know some of the tales first told hundreds of years ago and are aware of how they’ve changed over time. They’ve read the novels, seen the movies, and anticipate the upcoming King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.
Could I make the legend fresh and interesting, yet retain enough of the familiar and beloved to ground readers? I hope what I learned helps you:
- Take some time to absorb what you can about the cast of characters (avoid using any who can be copyrighted) and events. Pay attention to significant variations, important themes, values and motifs. I already had a good grasp of KA, and had a shelf full of books of tales and analysis about him and his knights.
- Decide what and who you’ll retain, what you’ll let go, what you’ll change and what you’ll add. I decided to write about the unsung knights no one has heard about, giving me freedom to create characters from scratch. Another Arthurian author may choose to develop his/her version of Lancelot as a hero rather than make him a secondary character or not feature him at all.
- Worldbuilding is key. The time period and specific location you choose will impact everything from clothing to food to housing to technology or lack thereof. Late medieval England (my choice because I have more than 200 books on the period) will yield a completely different environment than outer space or modern day. Be cognizant of the balance of description and the other elements of your novel. Too many details, no matter how interesting or cool to you, can overwhelm readers and bury the story.
- Choose an active jumping off point. Deluging readers with backstory to get them up to speed on everything you know about the characters isn’t recommended (though some authors use prologues or frontmatter to share the bare bones legend). Perhaps your hero or heroine is taking her first step of a quest, or danger is imminent.
- Choose your tones. How dark will you go? Will you find a humorous angle? The TV show Once Upon a Time is a good example of how to do both in revisiting fairytales. Do you prefer sweet, hot, or something in between? If there’s any violence, how graphic will you be?
- How many paranormal elements will you incorporate? Will you take a “normal” legend and make it paranormal, and if so, what percent of your story will be devoted to that? Or will you use a legend that already incorporates magic, non-human and/or mythical beings, etc., and expand upon or limit the supernatural?
If you want to take on a legend, but nothing jumps to mind, how do you find one? A quick search led to thirty-five pages just for English characters:
Blurb: My Once & Future Love (Unsung Knights of the Round Table #1)
Morgan ap Myrddin must rescue his father, Merlin, from imprisonment. But enemies have wounded him, draining his powers.
Annora of Amberton flees her castle to seek proof that she’s not a lunatic as her uncle declared when claiming wardship over her and her lands.
Morgan stumbles upon Annora’s cottage and enlists her aid. As he helps her in return, respect and undeniable desire spark. But he won’t succumb to the lure of a mortal woman as his father did. She’s wary of caring for a man who won’t discuss his past. When he tells her he’s a Knight of the Round Table, she fears he’s the lunatic. Secrets, danger and destiny thwart the power of love.
More about the Author
Ruth Kaufman is the award-winning author of My Once & Future Love and the Wars of the Roses Brides trilogy. Accolades include 2016 Booksellers’ Best Awards Best Historical and Best First Book winner and Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart® winner. She’s also an actor, voiceover talent and storyteller with a J.D. and a Master’s in Radio/TV who enjoys peanut butter and chocolate milkshakes and singing in a symphony chorus. Learn more at www.ruthkaufman.com and www.ruthtalks.com.