Adaptation: How to Modernise a Classic Story


What is an adaptation? Well, all stories are other stories. In fact, there are 7 basic plots that all tales could be:

  1. Overcoming the Monster
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return
  5. Comedy 
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth

What’s more, classic stories that use these plots are often retold for modern day audiences. Known as an adaptation, familiar details and drama are taken from the original source and used in a new setting or context. In today’s blog, we’ll talk through this process as well as highlight some famous adapted classics

What Is An Adaptation?

An adaptation is when you transfer a literary source (e.g. a novel) to another medium such as film, stage play, or video game. These new versions can either be:

Drawing in a slew of writers, adaptations are enticing because:

  1. They use stories that people already now “work”
  2. The original source material might already have a following

A lot of films are adaptations of books — Young Adult fiction seems to do especially well. Franchises like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Twilight all saw success from adapting the original novels. Going on from here, many musicals chose to convert films to the stage. 

Often, when using source material for adaptation, it’s best to develop stories that are in the public domain. 

What is the Public Domain?

The public domain consists of creative works which are no one’s exclusive intellectual property. That is to say, you are free to use them without paying copyright, or being served a cease and desist. Works usually enter the public domain 70 years after the death of the last living author. 

For example, the works of William Shakespeare are in the public domain. 

How to Adapt a Story

To create an adaptation, you must distill a story down to its four engines. Defined as follows, these engines combine to create complex stories. 

  1. Environment: what is an average day for the characters? how is this changed?
  2. Action/Plot: what happens in the story? what are important moments a.k.a plot points?
  3. Character: who is the main character? who is telling the story to the audience?
  4. Language: how do the characters speak? what tactics do they use to get what they want?

By understanding these storytelling devices, writers are able to change and add new elements to a story. They make up the core of the original source material and should exist in some form in the adaptation. 

Famous Modernisations

While some adaptations are direct retellings, others like to change the setting and context of the story. Check out these films based on classic stories from centuries past!


Original Source: Emma by Jane Austen

Emma is a novel about youthfulness and romantic misunderstandings. Throughout the novel, protagonist, Emma, overestimates her matchmaking abilities and learns to grow as a person. 

Clueless follows the life of Beverly Hills high school student Cher Horowitz. A socialite, Cher tries to better the lives of those around her by meddling in their relationships. 

She’s the Man

Original Source: Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s romantic comedy, Twelfth Night, follows Viola who, when separated by her brother in a shipwreck, pretends to be him. 

Following soccer-fanatic Viola, She’s The Man is a story a girl pretending to be her twin brother in order to play on the boy’s soccer team. 

About the Author

Lydia B.

Lydia B.

Lydia B. is a Marketing Coordinator and Music Club Coach for Gooroo Clubs. Don't let after-school be an afterthought - join Gooroo's online platform centred around hands-on project-based learning!