The latter half of the 21st century’s first decade ushered in the quirky phenomenon of well known literature undergoing some updated – and unexpected – twists.
Titles such as “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters”, “Mansfield Park and Mummies”, “The Undead World of Oz”, and “Little Vampire Women” just go to show that nothing is sacred when it comes to spinning commercially kooky plots. The screenwriting exercises in this month’s issue revolve around alternative spins and how existing classics can be used to generate ideas for movies, documentaries and TV shows.
For younger students who haven’t yet mastered the basics of script structure, these lesson plans lend themselves to extemporaneous storytelling and role-playing skits. Older students are encouraged to draft scenes into correctly formatted screenplays as well as film them for peer review.
These discussion questions provide a good foundation prior to choosing which exercises to try first.
1.In your own words, what is the difference between classic literature and pop culture? Provide examples.
2.How many classics are you familiar with that have been adapted to the stage or screen? Which ones do you feel were best (and least) suited to the adaptation process?
3.What elements do you think make a story “timeless” regardless of its genre, era or physical setting?
4.Which character from classic literature would you most like to see have his or her own reality show? What would the show’s premise be (i.e., dancing, IQ challenges, extreme sports)?
Note: In order to get the most out of the following lesson plans, it’s important that students familiarize themselves with the characters, themes, plots and historical context of the original source material. The latter can be found in libraries as well as downloaded for free from websites such as Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org) and Spark Notes (http://pd.sparknotes.com/lit).
JANE EYRE’S TWILIGHT
Mr. Rochester, the brooding lord of Thornfield Manor, is concerned that his new governess, Jane, is spending way too much time wistfully watching the comings and goings of their new neighbors, the Cullens. In particular, she seems fixated – to the point of downright pining - on the ghostly pale and mysterious Edward. Is it jealousy that compels Rochester to dissuade Jane from her infatuation or has he learned that Edward has a deadly secret?
Your assignment: Write a three-page scene in which Rochester shares his suspicions and forbids Jane to go on an upcoming moonlight picnic with her new beau.
Source material: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847).
HUCK FINN & THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS
Through an unnamed benefactor, Mississippi bad boy Huck Finn has been awarded a full scholarship to a prestigious boarding school for wizards. On the first day, he and his fellow freshmen are sternly lectured about the institution’s strict rules, including which areas of the sprawling campus are off-limits. Huck, however, has never been one to believe that rules personally apply to him and decides to recruit some fellow adventurers to go exploring after curfew.
Your assignment: Write a one-page film synopsis that identifies Huck’s new pals, who his adversaries are in his quest for danger, the major challenges Huck and his friends will face, and what this barefoot lad from the South will learn about life and himself by the movie’s final credits.
Source material: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1885).
Who knew a simple doughnut could cause so much grief? A family quartet of super-heroes has been tirelessly – and anonymously - saving the city from all manner of mayhem. Unfortunately, they have also been forced to stay one step ahead of a zealous police inspector who has been hounding them the past three years for the theft of a doughnut. While the penalty is relatively light – a few months of community service – admission of guilt would not only expose the family’s identity but also harm their reputation as doers of good deeds.
Your assignment: Write a one paragraph profile of each family member that identifies their respective super powers and core value systems. Then, write a one paragraph film synopsis that addresses how their dilemma with the police inspector will ultimately be resolved.
Source material: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1862).
ADDAMS FAMILY ROBINSON
Morticia Addams’ longstanding wish for a vacation in the sewers of Paris goes awry when hubby Gomez – along with their family and servant Lurch – end up getting shipwrecked on a deserted island. While they’re certainly no strangers to living in an isolated environment and quickly adapt to the challenges of their tropic landscape, they do miss the occasional entertainment of outside interactions.
Your assignment: Write a three-page scene in which the Addams clan discovers they’re not alone and decide to throw a dinner party and celebrate.
Source material: The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss (1812).
CAPTAIN AHAB, ALIEN CHASER
Captain Ahab is a man obsessed, a man obsessed with the belief that giant leviathans from another world are roaming the planet’s waters with a cunning plan to one day come ashore and vanquish all of humanity. The only way to stop them, he decides, is to hunt down their leader before it’s too late. He heads to the nearest seaport tavern to recruit a fearless crew.
Your assignment: Write a one-page rousing monologue in which Ahab tries to convince his listeners that time is of the essence in mounting an attack against the giant alien invaders.
Source material: Moby Dick by Herman Melville (1851).
THE MUMMY’S GREAT EXPECTATIONS
A lot can happen when you’ve been under wraps for three thousand years. Just ask Miss Havisham. Owing to a dreadful mistake, she was accidentally mummified, stuck in an Egyptian crypt, and missed her own wedding day. Fast forward to the present and her sarcophagus has been shipped to England where it’s going to reside in the private collection of a young man named Pip. During a violent thunderstorm, Miss Havisham’s mummy suddenly sits upright in Pip’s library where he has been trolling the Internet for directions to a new dance club he has heard about.
Your assignment: Write a two-page scene in which Miss Havisham demands to know where she is and what’s going on.
Source material: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1860).
As part of my ongoing commitment to supply great lesson plans for today’s classrooms, I always enjoy getting feedback on how the material is used and what kind of new content you’d like to see in future columns. I’m also happy to answer any questions related to specific problems your students may be struggling with. Just drop me a note at or through my website at http://www.authorhamlett.com.
Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is an award winning author, professional script consultant, and ghostwriter. Her credits to date include 26 books, 128 plays for young actors, and 5 optioned feature films.