You hear it all the time in publishing: "we want fresh takes on what's familiar." What does that mean exactly? Readers want to be delightedly surprised, not left scratching their heads. In traditional publishing at least, there seems to be a pretty good formula for accomplishing this--take a standard plot and add a twist.
Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces gave us the monomyth--the hero's journey structure found in pretty much every adventure story from The Odyssey to Star Wars to Harry Potter. And yet as structurally similar as those stories might be, the milieus in which they are set differ radically.
Now there are plenty of other classic structures beside the hero's journey (take a gander at Story Structure Architect sometime to learn about eleven structures and 50+ classic scenarios). That idea aside, consider what I just said about creating variations. It's about setting that story in a new milieu.
Milieu goes beyond setting. It also includes the larger context of social relationships within a setting--what this particular time and place values and considers taboo, how hierarchy works and bonds are strengthened or weakened. I speak more in depth about some elements of milieu in my analysis of a novel excerpt HERE.
Just how refreshing can a change of milieu be? Check out this ragtime adaptation of a recent hit song:
(You might also enjoy their Bluegrass version of "Blurred Lines"--it doesn't make skin crawl like the original does. The group is Postmodern Jukebox. You're welcome.)
This kind of historical adaptation can be a game changer for just about any existing plot. Think about it. Star Wars is a futuristic adaptation of events in ancient Rome. What if you took a Shakespeare play like As You Like It and set it in 1920s Paris? Or ancient China? You'd have a completely different story.
If you ever take this approach, I'd suggest that you start by selecting a milieu you know well or are passionate about so that it won't be boring or agony-inducing to recreate it. From there, pick a classic story that could open up in amazing new ways in this milieu--Huckleberry Finn in space, Gone with the Wind in the Yugoslavian Civil War. You could go anywhere with this.
What are some of your favorite story retellings/resettings/adaptations?