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Friday, April 9, 2010

Fairy Tales and Writing Ideas

My son is working on something his creative writing teacher calls a “seed journal.” He’s supposed to write in it ideas, snippets of overheard conversations, observations, descriptions, dreams, pieces of letters or emails, and anything else that could spark an idea for an addition to his creative writing portfolio.

My friend who inspired me to begin writing this blog has just written an entry in hers that refers to a fairy tale character, which gives me a writing idea. When I first read Robin McKinley’s retelling of the Beauty and the Beast tale, a novel entitled Beauty, I was so enchanted by it that I tried to start my own retelling of Cinderella with a similar competent, intelligent, resourceful, and reliable narrator. It proved impossible, probably because at the time I didn’t realize how Cinderella’s reliance on the fairy godmother and her otherwise utter helplessness would not lend themselves to the kind of narrator I wanted to create, and I didn’t put in any work on reimagining the story elements that could have been changed.

Are there any other fairy tales with heroines who could be smart, funny, and competent?

How about Rapunzel, trapped up there in her tower and unable to get out? Perhaps she was put there by a trick that shouldn’t have worked but did, and perhaps that prince isn’t so much deus ex machina as a well-known comrade who matches her in wits, and the hair ladder is something they equally invented, as well as the escape.

Maybe the Sleeping Beauty princess doesn’t have to just lie there helpless after all. Perhaps she gets tricked as in the original tale so that she gets a sleeping sickness or something that keeps knocking her flat, but when she’s awake, she and her friends exert all their powers to find an antidote, and the trial causes significant character growth and the development of the romance.

Or in the Goldilocks tale, the three bears aren’t actual bears, but people with certain antisocial tendencies who could use some rehabilitation at the same time as they teach her compassion, understanding, and better manners. . .

Red Riding Hood might meet the wolf in the shape of a man and be unable at first to distinguish between a good man and a bad one until the threats to her person and then family become clearer. The sexual element could be there, but it doesn’t have to be explicit as modern storytellers tend to think is necessary.

Lots of people before me have retold fairy tales, changing elements to suit their views, from Disney to other filmmakers to literary authors and so on. I like endings that are happy, but not quite Disneyesque where nobody suffers. I don’t mind showing the reality of tragic endings when the choices dictate it. I like romances that end happily, again, if the choices lead to that reward. I don’t think explicit sex works in a romance, because it shifts the focus to the body and makes the story degenerate into mere titillation, which ends up degrading the spiritual aspects of romance. I do like to reimagine old tales. I wish I could think up my very own story lines, but Iʼve never been much good at plotting. I’m basically a parasitic writer.

If I ever actually finish writing a story, I’ll be a happy parasite.

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