I'm currently on the fourth draft of my novel and am at the stage at last of getting to go sentence by sentence and approach things on quite a molecular level. My book is a sci-fi reimagining of the Clytemnestra myth and I'm interested in paying homage to a few classical texts. Particularly, there are moments in my work where Helen of Troy is sitting around in Egypt. I've researched the various traditions of Helen and am particularly drawn to the Egyptian tradition for various logistical and practical reasons - it just makes sense for my work. I really want to reference the 'Helen in Egypt' poem by Hilda Doolittle so as to highlight similarities in theme between our work (especially I'm interested in the way she details the multinationality of Helen as cultural interaction is a theme of my work and feminism in the context of making Helen a more active participant in her own fate as well as exploring the way defined lines between the "acceptable" social worlds of men and women negatively impact everyone) and I was wondering what would be the best way to go about it.

Everything would be integrated into the text, I don't want to do a quotation at the start or anything like that, and I don't want to deal with any copyright issues should it come to publishing. I was thinking of integrating some specific turns of phrase/word into the text, not lifting directly but using specific words. Like describing Helen's eyes as "slanting with her smile" in reference to "did her eyes slant in the old way" (not final but you get the picture). Would this be an appropriate way to proceed? Does anyone have experience with this?


1 Answer 1


I don't get your problem.

How do you retell a story? Well, either you tell the story exactly as it was told originally – with the same characters doing the same things in the same setting –, only in your own words, or you change some things in whichever way you want: let Romeo fall in love with Julio or let Uwdipos be a Muslim who kills his father in contemporary Toronto.

It's been done countless times. Maybe read some examples (and the originals) with a writer's eye?

As for the specifics of your question:

If you are unsure whether this or that works, try it out. Develop and/or outline and/or write that variant and see if it feels right and how your alpha readers react.

Experimentation is the key to solving I-don't-know-how-to-write-this problems.

You don't really want us to tell you what to write and how to write it. It will no longer be your text, and you won't feel as happy with it as if you found our own way to do it by trying different things out.

Legally the poems of H.D. will be protected by copyright until 2031 in most Western countries. You are free to do whatever you want with anything whose author has died more than 70 years ago.

  • Thanks for your reply! Retelling is fine, the whole book is a retelling of various myths and I'm comfortable with my abilities on that front. You are almost certainly correct that the path is to experiment - I suppose I'll try it and see how it reads. I think I had a moment of insecurity where I wasn't sure it was worth the attempt but that was silly of me - the course in creativity is always to build, fail, build anew. Jan 10 at 21:33
  • @AlexanderMarshall The problem is also that to answer your question about how to go about referencing the poem by H.D. we would be telling you what to write. That's off topic on this site, and for good reason. You are the one who has to figure out how to write about the slanting eyes. You are the author, that is, it is your thought processes that translate your ideas into a text. If we told you how to do (part of) that, your text would no longer speak in your voice and would no longer follow a coherent vision. Also, you don't evolve as a writer by just writing what someone tells you to.
    – Ben
    Jan 11 at 5:54

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