Fairy tales – they’ve been told and retold, but maybe you’re drawn to tell one again. And you’d be in good company.
But what more can be said with these stories? Bookshelves in YA and children’s libraries are full of fairy tale retellings. How might you craft fresh versions?
Perhaps the more appropriate question is this - Why do we still enjoy reading these tales? Why are many of us drawn to write them?
The simple answer is that they continue to have relevance for contemporary readers. What follows is a list of suggestions for finding unique relevance in old stories – the unexplored but rich terrain in fairy tales.
Draw a Cultural Picture. What stories are too little told? How might they depict cultures and peoples misrepresented or underrepresented in literature? Grace Lin used Chinese folk and fairy tales to inspire the wonderful MG fantasy Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. However, those of us considering writing outside our cultures should think carefully on the if’s, when’s, and how’s of such a decision.
Find Logic in the Illogical. Often, the things that occur in fairy tales don’t entirely make sense. Why doesn’t Red Riding Hood notice that her grandmother has a hairy face? Why is Cinderella so obedient as she’s robbed of her position and possessions? Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted offers an answer to this last question that’s both humorous and emotionally resonant. Great stories can come from making sense out of nonsense.
Tell the Tale from Another Side. Every character has his or her own story: the prince, the witch, the servant girl who walks into the tale briefly and then walks out. Try seeing the story from all sides, and writing it from an alternative perspective. To read an example of this kind of story, track down Donna Jo Napoli’s Zel or The Magic Circle, both of which offer the perspectives of witches.
Kindle the Emotional Heat. Fairy tales might be about magic and once-upon-a-time, but they’re also about fathers who abandon children, lovers who must see past the ugly outward appearance of a beloved to the sweetness beneath, girls who make the wrong choices and must try to save themselves. These stories are, at their cores, about situations people continue to face every day. When we’re drawn to a particular tale, we might ask, why? What truths are we finding in it? The answers to these questions led me to write a version of “Hansel and Gretel”. Robin McKinley provided two sets of answers in two novels that retell the story of “Beauty and the Beast”, Beauty and Rose’s Daughter.
I’m sure I’ve overlooked some ways of approaching old and yet compelling stories. How do you create unique stories from already-told tales?