A3Writer: Modifying Fairy Tales for Fiction
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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Modifying Fairy Tales for Fiction

            This is the second half of the information I gave at my conference presentation. I felt weird for not putting it up before, but Mondays are reserved for going over myths, not writing or modifying them. But here’s that info now, forever preserved online. Or at least until the servers lose it.


Using (and Changing) Fairy Tales for Fiction

            Fairy Tales are popular these days thanks to numerous novels and television shows such as Grimm and Once Upon a Time, and because of their rich history and sheer number. So here are some tips to consider:
  • Go to source material before making changes. Modern, children’s collections have been sanitized; original tales will have greater conflict to exploit and change. (See Resources below)
  • The greats have become cliché. Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, and Snow White have been done too many times. Try ranging out into less well-known tales and cultures.
    • Different cultures provide new ideas and settings to explore. Try Russian (or Eastern European) tales and (my favorite) the stories of the 1001 Nights (these are overlooked, but share structure, perspective, and morality as most fairy tales).
  • Disney made awesome changes. They can’t be used as source material, but they know how to make changes to keep the story interesting and moving, as well as tailor tales to their audience. Which means:
Follow (and expand on) Disney’s Example!
Consider fairy tales as blank templates; fill in the details to make the story real for a modern audience.
  • Create a detailed setting with a geography and time period people can identify. 
    • Neverland has a treehouse for the Lost boys, a town, and a pirate ship. 
  • Name and flesh out even minor characters to breathe new life into them. 
    • The old throwaway fairy becomes Maleficent, the evil, mysterious, sultry sorceress. 
  • Animals with human traits are perfectly logical in fairy tales. Use them to aid (or hinder) characters, provide comic relief, advance the plot, or provide unforeseen twists. 
    • A sword fighting horse goes up against a man with a frying pan. 
  • Take a simple narrative and make it more complex. 
    • Ursula has a history with and vendetta against Triton. 
  • Create political tension using rivalries against other kingdoms or class struggle. 
    • Dwarven Miners Local 405 is going on Strike! 
  • Create sexual tension among characters for realism and complexity. 
    • Did Cinderella leave her slipper on the steps or in the Prince’s bedroom?
Caveats
  • Beware of making the original story unrecognizable because of all your changes. 
  • Know that certain changes may alienate readers (student favorite: vampires don’t sparkle!) 
  • Recognize what aspects make the story great and leave them alone.
Exercises
  • Rewrite the story from the perspective of a minor character. 
  • Rewrite from the perspective of the antagonist (make the antagonist a morally good character?). 
  • Create an alternate (possibly darker) ending to the story. 
  • Put the characters of the story on trial (Dun dun!).
Resources
  • Folklore and Mythology Texts by D.L.Ashliman (ed.). This collection has thousands of tales, including different versions of popular stories. http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/folktexts.html
  • Le Cabinet des Fées by Leprince de Beaumont, Perrault, and Gérard. The original collection of stories from France, which predates the Grimm stories. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/28891
  • The Internet Sacred Text Archive is probably the most comprehensive source for mythology and fairy tales out there. Simply search for Fairy Tales. http://www.sacred-texts.com/search.htm
  • The Metamorphoses by Ovid. Many fairy tales have connections to older mythology stories, especially of the Greeks and Romans, who were fond of fantastic creatures and transformations.


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