But Is It Timeless ?
Why do we cringe when we hear the dreaded phrase, “updated for modern audiences?”
What is it about that sentence that fills us with fear and trepidation? Is it a hatred of remakes? Is it a love for the past that hates the evils of modernity?
To be honest, it's probably those two things for some people, but for everyone else, the usual answers given are they’re afraid of being preached at, denigrated, and seeing their old favorites torn down and “deconstructed.”
Why do audiences immediately think they’re going to be preached at and scorned though?
The answer might surprise you.
It’s because, instead of being told a story, the watcher is being subjected to a religious sermon in the form of a heavy-handed allegory.
Religion has been defined as a set of beliefs that influence day-to-day life and inform the purpose of the believer.
While not strictly religious in the exact sense of the word, many modern tales are allegories of whatever the modern belief system is at the moment. Because of the influence of the specific point in time, the tales, which are often heavy-handed, lose the timelessness that other stories that forego the moment for the eternal conditions of humanity retain.
The latter are the stories we all remember.
So, now the question we have to ask ourselves as writers, is: what kind of story am I telling?
If I want to write a modern story for modern audiences yet make it timeless, how do I do so?
If I want to write a whole new fictional planet and make it feel like it’s its own world that’s been lived in and populated for centuries, how can I do so and make it so it’s just as fresh on the first read as the fiftieth?
The answer to both is to focus on the needs of the story and ignore the nagging which tells you to focus on checking off ideological boxes.
Instead of making the story a thinly veiled tale of whoever the political enemy of the time is, instead, focus on the timeless properties shared by the enemy, whether it be a cold carelessness or an enabling attitude that fixes the surface while the innards rot.
Instead of the tired trope of “all church is evil,” ask what makes a church evil and how can you contrast it with the intended purpose of bringing hope and transcendence. It will make the wrongs more abhorrent while making the good stand in starker contrast so it shines all the brighter.
The list of examples could go on, but at the heart of every one of them is one question you need to ask yourself.
How can I appeal to the universal in this specific example?
When that’s our focus, we’ll get the timeless classics like Lord of the Rings, and the works of Shakespeare, but if we abandon it, we’ll get one of the thousands of remakes that’s forgotten the moment its outrage marketing runs its course.
So, as writers, let’s not give into the temptation of “checkmark writing” but rather, remember the timeless struggles which draw us together as humans and create great stories that resonate across boundaries, races, and religions.
Thank you to M Anthony Harris for sharing his insights with us. If you would like to check out the author's work, click on the links below.