If you’ve ever come up with a story idea only to turn around and find out that it’s all been done before, you’re not alone.

Hades and Persephone are an author favourite in romance.

Any Greek mythology, really. But Hades and Persephone are the leading couple.

It’s almost at a point where having written a Hades and Persephone story is a kind of rite of passage for romance authors.

The thing I see a lot of new writers struggle with is: If it’s all been done before, why should I do it?

There’s only one answer to that: because you want to.

If you feel called to write a story, even if it’s been told over and over again, tell it!

I mean, Harry Potter is, infamously, the same story as Star Wars. The Witcher and The Mandalorian are more or less the same stories too (reluctant single parent learns to be less grumpy and to get out more).

Remember how I’ve said that the most interesting thing about you is you? That only you can tell a story the way you would?

That’s reason enough to tell a story for the umpteenth time.

But make it good, hey?

Let’s take a closer look at Little Women, which has inspired several screen adaptations over the years.

First published in 1868, Louisa May Alcott’s story has stood the test of time:

  • The 1917 silent film is considered lost.
  • The 1918 silent film was shot in and around Alcott’s home.
  • The 1933 film, starring Katherine Hepburn as Jo, was a hit with a Great Depression audience as it portrayed simplicity, frugality, and the resilience of the spirit (but the dialogue is… bad).
  • In 1949 it came out in glorious Technicolor and had a star-studded cast (the dialogue is better).
  • The 1994 adaptation is the one I grew up with and it was nominated for three Academy Awards, directed by a woman, and featured an ensemble of powerhouse actresses (and of course, Christian Bale as Laurie).
  • The newest film adaptation is the 2019 version which was both written and directed by Greta Gerwig and had another star-studded cast.

There are also several TV adaptations – even an awful anime one – going back as far as 1939, as well as a Broadway play (1912 & 2005), ballet (1969) and an opera (1998).

But for now, let’s focus on examining the movies alone.

It’s the 2019 version I want to juxtapose with the other films so we can see why yet another retelling feels justified.

The three other films – 1933, 1949 and 1994 – are all fairly similar.

The scenes are set up in almost the same way, the dialogue is delivered in very similar manners, it’s just that we get to see it with new actors.

Gerwig’s retelling doesn’t change the story beat but it brings something new emotionally and visually.

Putting aside the utter disaster that is the costuming of the movie, there is energy and camerawork that just doesn’t exist in the other movies, and this makes the film come alive in a way that I really appreciate.

In movie-making, working out the details of an actor’s moves in relation to the camera is called blocking.

And Gerwig makes a clear departure from the previous films by blocking her scenes differently.

She uses all the tools available as a film-maker to illustrate the struggle and tension between characters, rather than simply doing what was done before.

Gerwig brings visual energy and motion, as well as positioning the story in a different emotional space by using editing and cinematography.

Take this scene, for instance:

While the other films stay close to our subjects and instil the scene with a personal romantic tragedy, Gerwig takes a wider approach and infuses her tragedy with a frustrating inevitability instead.

There’s playful energy in her cinematography that doesn’t really exist in the other films.

The energy that Gerwig added really seems to fit the protagonist Jo March (and the story as a whole) much better.

Her non-linear approach in juxtaposing scenes of the March sisters older and later in life, against a highly idealised portrait of their youth, adds a nostalgia and melancholy to the story that’s less palpable in the other versions.

That romantic nostalgia is reinforced with the painterly lighting and composition as well as the score.

One of the best parts of Gerwig’s version is that she takes liberties with the ending.

To maintain the original feminist spirit of the book, Jo only accepts Friedrich’s proposal in the story of her book – and even then only because she’s pressured by her publisher to change the ending.

Louisa May Alcott never married and Little Women is loosely autobiographical.

Gerwig proposes that Alcott may have preferred for Jo to stay unmarried in the book but was pressured to give the story a traditional romantic ending.

We don’t know if this really happened to Alcott, but Gerwig’s version is a commentary on how previous adaptations present Jo’s engagement as the climactic event of her life.

Like the book, Gerwig extends the story past where all the other film adaptations end and makes the highlight of Jo’s life the publishing of her book instead of her eventual engagement.

Though that’s a big win for Jo, it doesn’t come without sacrifice.

All her problems aren’t solved by an engagement or a published book.

What I love best about the 2019 adaptation, is that it’s less about who gets married first and to whom, and more about watching how the sisters grapple with growing older, disappointment and adjusting to what their lives have become as opposed to what they once dreamed they would be.

So, you see, if you don’t write that story that you feel called to write, you may be depriving your readers of the retelling they’ve been waiting for.

You wouldn’t tell one flower in a field of flowers not to grow, right?

The fact that the story has been told several times before, is simply a sign that there’s a hunger to hear it yet again.

And if you tell it in a way that is true to you, it’ll be a worthwhile endeavour.

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