Sixteen-year-old Alice just can’t find a way to be free. Her parents are environmental activists, whose cringe-worthy public protests might involve chaining themselves to a fence and pleading with passersby to “Save the World. Save Alice!” It’s not that Alice doesn’t believe there’s work to be done. But after a petition to start a farmer's market meets with more snickers than signatures, she figures she should shut up instead of speaking out. At least, that is, until she can find something that feels real. Then along comes Whitney Lapin, a girl who speaks in cryptic riddles and spends her free time turning abandoned warehouses into beautiful gardens. Charismatic Whitney leads Alice on a rabbit trail into the underground--aka secret society--of Wonderland High. Curiouser and curiouser.
Alice is in wonderland! Even though Whitney's group of teenage environmental vigilantes operates on the wrong side of the law, with them, Alice is finally free to be herself. She stomps on her good girl image by completing a series of environmental pranks to impress the new group: flooding the school and disguising a pig as a baby in order to smuggle it out of a testing facility. She wants to trust them, and she especially wants to trust (or maybe kiss) Chester Katz, a boy with a killer smile, a penchant for disappearing, and a secret that will turn Alice's world backwards. But then, one of the young vigilantes tries to frame Alice for all the pranks, and she must figure out their secret before she ends up in front of a jury screaming, "Off with her head!"
Buy it Now: Amazon
Rachel Shane studied Creative Writing at Syracuse University and now works in digital publishing at in New York City. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, young daughter, and a basement full of books. This is her first novel.
HOW TO WRITE A RETELLING
Writing a retelling seems like it would eliminate a lot of the guess work involved in building a novel from scratch. You have built-in characters, scene beats to hit, and the main plot arc laid out. But in reality, I’d argue writing a retelling can be harder than dreaming up a brand new world and characters no one has ever seen before. I should know, I’ve done both! But have no fear, I’m here to give you a cheat sheet on how to write the perfect retelling.
1. Come up with an original twist
This might sound obvious, but it’s not. My first inkling of an idea for Alice in Wonderland High was to eliminate all fantasy elements and set the story in modern day high school. Some of the elements were clear to me from the start. Alice would be the main character and I’d make her not-so-innocent this time. The Queen of Hearts would be reimagined as the Queen Bee of school. The White Rabbit would become a girl named Whitney who leads Alice into something dangerous. But what? And that question was the key to unlocking my original twist. It wasn’t enough to simply re-set the story in high school and turn it contemporary. I had to put my own spin on it, something no one else would come up with. For inspiration, I looked to the original source material. Which brings me to...
2. Read the original book. Then re-read it. Repeat.
It was around my second read through of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that I realized Alice’s main goal in the original is to get inside the beautiful garden she first sees through the keyhole. Certain other elements stuck out to me, like her only real companion throughout the book is the Cheshire Cat. The Mad Hatter betrays her at the end when most other adaptations make him the love interest or best friend. Alice has a cat named Dinah that she gets separated from when she falls down the rabbit hole and she spends a good portion of the story lamenting over Dinah before moving on. The King of Hearts character is devious in his own way and goes behind the Queen’s back.
All of these elements clicked together to help me figure out my unique spin. The Cheshire Cat would become a love interest named Chester Katz with a killer smile. To keep his main character trait of disappearing, I gave my Chess a mystery that centered around a disappearance. I combined the Mad Hatter and King of Hearts characters into one because I noticed similarities in their plot arcs and personalities. I made Dinah into a best friend who Alice has a falling out with early into the novel. But I still didn’t have a plot.
3. Translate the goals of the original characters into plot
As I mentioned in #2, Alice spends most of the original book searching for the beautiful garden. Now I had to figure out how to turn that into plot. Gardens led me to gardening, which brought me to the idea of environmentalism. Then I took that up a notch and made it extreme. Instead of getting inside a beautiful garden, I had Alice want desperately to get inside a secret society of teenage environmental vigilantes. In both the original and mine, nonsense thwarts her at every turn. In the original, the nonsense came in the form of strange characters she meets. In mine, the nonsense stems from the secrets the group keeps from her and each other. As Alice works to uncover those secrets, she finds herself deeper and deeper in the rabbit hole.
4. Scene by scene outline in Excel
You don’t have to use Excel but I like it because I can try out several plot arcs at once. I list each original scene in the left column. Then in the next column, I start to plot out my version by re-envisioning the original scenes into something new that fits my vision and plot. Instead of rescuing a baby from people who should have Child Services called on them only to have that baby turn into a pig, my Alice could attempt to rescue a pig from a testing facility (by dressing it as a baby to smuggle it out) as part of one of the missions the group gives her. In similar ways, the Flood of Tears scene and the Painting the Roses Red from the original came to me. Character motivations helped inform other iconic scenes, such as the Caterpillar Hookah, the Drink Me keyhole scene, and the Mad Tea Party. Eventually all the scenes fell together in a way that followed the plot of the original book and hit on all the important beats. But what about the less important beats, the ones people who don’t know the original story well won’t recognize?
5. Find the right balance between what to keep and what to cut
There are scenes in the original that most people don’t know exist. Or scenes that are there but aren’t in the collective cannon people think of when they discuss Alice. For example, there’s a scene in the original where Alice’s neck grows too tall and hits a bird in a tree, who mistakes her for a serpent. This scene exists in the Disney cartoon but is often left out of other adaptations. Or how about the scene where Alice runs a race to get dry with a bunch of other animals, then demand she gives them prizes, then reward her with only a thimble?
My goal when writing was to pay homage to every scene in the book but (hopefully!) write them in a way where the average reader would enjoy my version without being jarred by the references. Yet big fans of the original book could pluck out each easter egg I dropped in and recognize the elements no one else will.
But there were scenes that didn’t have relevance to my plot and so I decided not to include them, or I only included a small part of them. In a similar way, I cut certain characters from the original like The Duchess but gave some of her lines to crazy Kingston.
6. What’s theirs is now yours
But there’s more than just finding the balance for what to retell. You also need to find the right balance between what’s theirs, what’s yours, and what has become yours that once was theirs. What I mean by this is certain elements of the retelling will always be theirs. The Mad Hatter character will always be crazy and readers will be disappointed if he doesn’t show up. The White Rabbit will always lead Alice down the path of no return. But in order to put a proper spin on the original, you need to add your own elements. I gave each character a secret and a mystery that Alice works to solve. None of those mysteries relates to the original book yet still helps inform my plot. What has become yours that once was there is a gray area. These are the scenes you twist in a way so they become something only you can write instead of something the original author would have come up with.
7. Have fun with it
The most important aspect of writing a retelling is enjoying the process. If you don’t enjoy it, then neither will your readers. I had a blast in writing mine!