How I Write Fairy Tale Retellings

It’s time for another post for fairy tale month! I already posted about why I write fairy tale retellings…now it’s time for a post on how.

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1: The Idea

This is the most nebulous, indefinable aspect of writing a fairy tale retelling. Each one I’ve done has a different story behind it.

January Snow was actually the first retelling idea I ever came up with. My brother mentioned how much he hated Snow White, and of course my first thought was, “how can I force him to like it?” The answer seemed obvious: add mobsters. And what better way to add organized crime to a “Snow White” tale than a 1920s American setting?

The Wulver’s Rose was much different because it was created for the Five Enchanted Roses contest. I’ve gone into detail about my process before, but I didn’t choose which fairy tale to tackle; the contest did it for me. But I did choose to set it in Scotland because I wanted the beast to be an actual mythological creature; during research, the wulver checked all my boxes and became the inspiration for the rest of the story.

I’ve always loved the story of “Rapunzel;” there’s something about the idea of a young woman trapped in a tower that’s always been an appealing plot to me. It seemed so cozy! Thus, my brain started wondering…what if she didn’t want to leave? The setting of With Blossoms Gold was taken directly from Paul O. Zelinsky’s picture book. Somehow, I couldn’t get rid of that vision of Rapunzel in a Renaissance gown.

There are a lot of reasons why an author may choose a particular fairy tale to retell; sometimes it’s because they dislike the original and wish to “fix” it (which is generally not my favorite tactic) or because they love the original so much they want to elaborate on it. Either way: make sure it’s a fairy tale you’re willing to travel with for the long haul, because you’re going to be knee-deep in it for a long time.

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2: The Reading

Reading, you say?

Yes. The Reading. After getting down my initial ideas and plans for the story, I reread the original fairy tale.

And then I read it again, this time with notes. I check through all of the major plot points, and all of the smaller bits of the story I know I’d like to incorporate. I also research other versions of the tale. Which version of “Rapunzel” do I want? Do I want to take inspiration for other similar tales of folklore? What are the similar legends, myths, and folktales of the region I’m setting the story in that can be utilized in in my own retelling?

I also avoid reading retellings of the same tale during this time.

One thing about reading fairy tale retellings is that they can run together and at times be frustratingly alike. That’s not surprising; they’re based on the same source material after all! But one thing that’s very important to me is not to be influenced by plot points of other retellings or the Disney versions. Of course, as someone who reads a lot of fairy-tale inspired fiction, I do generally already have a pretty good idea of what’s out there to begin with. (If you’ve never read a fairy tale retelling before but want to write one…you should probably familiarize yourself a bit with the genre!) One of my favorite things to do is pull in the more obscure elements of popular fairy tales and shine the spotlight on them in a retelling. Sometimes, the things we think are elements in a fairy tale are really just something invented by Disney or popular retellings. (The beast getting cursed because he was a jerk or did something wrong? Yeah, that’s not in Madame de Villeneuve’s original story!)

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It *is* a great addition of Disney’s though

But that’s not the only reading that gets done. Because I write historically-set stories, I also have that research to do. It’s during this time that I usually have a notebook that helps me collect ideas when my two realms of research collide. (Spiritualists and mediums in the 1920s usually had a special object that they thought the spirits communicated with them through? Make a note of that because the evil queen’s object is sure as heck gonna be a mirror!)

3: The Writing

And now it’s time for the work. There’s not too much to say about this other than the fact that I do have my book of fairy tales beside my computer as I write that first draft. I’ll occasionally glance back through it if I need to. But –generally– the writing and revision process is not much different than my other books. Except….

4: The Revisions and Edits

I read the fairy tale. Again. (And yes, as much as I love my fairy tales, I’m usually pretty sick of it at this point!) Do I think I’ve written a good interpretation of the story? Have included all of the events and motifs from the original that I wanted to?

This is also the point when I start reading other retellings of the same fairy tale, just to see what others have done and make sure that what I have isn’t too similar to books that have already been published. I usually already have a good idea if this is true or not, but I want to double-check.

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And that’s about the size of it. Every book is different, but these are some ways that fairy tale retellings differ from my other works of fiction. But the how of writing retellings also depends a lot on each author’s goal. I love being true to the fairy tale and bringing in forgotten elements of what we often call the “original” while still turning one or two plot points on their head. (Rapunzel doesn’t want to leave; Snow White isn’t “innocent,” etc.) If you have different goals, then your process may look very different! However, one thing I think is essential is becoming ridiculously familiar with your source material. Feel free to alter it as you like, but it’s difficult to to give it your own spin when you don’t even know what you’re spinning in the first place!

Rumpelstiltskin is still my favorite childhood story. Spinning wheel inside the Blackhouse at Arnol. Scotland

Fellow writers, have you penned any fairy tale retellings? What are some tricks and tips you have to share? Do you enjoy fairy tale retellings that stick close to their sources, or ones that are only loose interpretations?

Fairy Tale Blog Tag

And the February celebration of fairy tales continues, this time with a blog tag.

– What’s an obscure fairy tale you love? Though I’ve seen this one become a little more well-known lately, I think “King Thrushbeard” still counts as obscure. My sister and I discovered it together, and it was one of those stories we’d never heard people talk about before but really enjoyed.

– If you got to choose Disney’s next animated princess movie, what fairy tale would you choose to be adapted? Oh, “The Wild Swans!” It’s been one of my favorites since I was a kid, and I’d love to see an adaptation for it. The same with “The Princess and the Pea.” I think the latter would make an especially good Disney film because there’s a lot of room for them to put their own spin on it, as they did in Tangled or The Princess and the Frog.

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– What is the first fairy tale you remember hearing when you were a child? As far as I can remember, I think the earliest fairy tale for me was “Cinderella.” That makes sense, since it’s my mother’s favorite and one she would want to share with me!

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– If you were to embark on a fairy tale quest, what necessities would you pack in your bag? Rope, cheese, bread, and an enchanted cloak. Also a book….of fairy tales. For guidance on the quest, you know?

– What’s your favorite fairy tale trope? I’m not going to lie: it’s the prince saving the princess. I know modern culture loves to hate on it, but I love it, okay? Ever since Prince Philip fought a dragon for Aurora I was like, “Ah, YES. My future husband should be willing to fight a dragon for me.” Not a tall order to fill, huh?

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– If you could be any fairy tale character archetype (the princess, the soldier, fairy godmother, talking animal, mischievous imp, wise old woman, evil stepmother/sister, etc.), who would you want to be and why? I’ve always wanted to be the fairy godmother and make people’s dreams come true while also giving out excellent advice and help when needed. As I lack a magic wand and fairy wings, perhaps the most I can hope to be in reality is a wise old woman.

– What animal/mythical creature would be your sidekick for fairy tale adventures? I would love a tiny baby dragon and I’d give it all my pennies to hoard and it would be adorable.

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– What is your favorite historical era, and what fairy tale would you love to see in that setting? Okay, so once upon a time Disney was planning to make an animated “Jack and the Beanstalk” film set in Exploration-Era Spain and I am DEVASTATED that never happened.

There are several time periods I’m planning to utilize in my own retellings in the future (such as Viking-era Scandinavia and Regency England) but I’d love to see more fairy tale retellings set in ancient settings, such as Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, or in various Native American cultures.

– If you could change a fairy tale’s villain into a hero, who would you choose and why? I’ve got to go with Rumpelstiltskin on this one. Once Upon a Time messed around with this idea a bit, and as the love interest of the original story is less than likable, I kind of enjoy twists that turn Rumpelstiltskin into a more heroic (or at least complex) character.

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– Do you prefer fairy tales with happy endings or sad/tragic endings? why or why not? Happy Endings all the way. I see enough sadness in real life; I want to see characters get a happy ending, especially when it’s one they’ve worked so hard to earn.

You can find the blog tag questions on The Fairy Tale Central.

 

Why I Read (and Write) Fairytale Retellings

It’s fairy tale month over at FTC! This month, we’re spotlighting fairy tales in general, in honor of “Tell a Fairy Tale Day” on the 26th. It’s especially exciting to me, not only as a fairy tale lover, but also as an author who has just released her own “Snow White” retelling. So, you may be wondering, “why does this girl like fairy tales so much?”

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I was one of those kids who was always into fairy tales: I remember being particularly delighted as first-grader when my mom agreed to buy me a Disney Princess storybook collection (which I still own!) during the scholastic book fair at school; some of my favorite memories are the days I’d spend inside a couch-cushion fort watching Disney’s Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella.

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Fairy tales don’t always have the best reputation nowadays, mainly by people who dismiss their romance and happy endings as unrealistic, citing that children should learn more about the real world. But the thing is (aside from the fact that fairy tales can be a lot more gruesome and unhappy than these critics give them credit for) is that we are in the real world. We know things don’t work out that way all the time. As a kid and as an adult, when the world is wearying and heavy, fairy tales (yes, even Disney ones) were and are a much-needed break. We all want a little bit of hope, a reminder of happy endings. We want stories about heroes and heroines who succeed and overcome darkness.

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There are a lot of reason I love fairy tales. I could make a list about their historical, cultural, and literary significance. I could wax eloquently on their timeless truths about human nature, making them excellent choices for re-examination and retelling. But the thing is, though those things are important, they’re not really the reason I love them.

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I love them because when I’m reading a good fairy tale, I’m six years old again, cuddled in blankets in a fort quietly lost in a land far, far away. When I read, watch, or write fairy tales and retellings, a little of that childhood magic comes back. It’s warm; it’s comforting; it’s cozy.

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And that’s while I’ll never get tired of revisiting them. ❤

i am obsessed with fairy tales. obviously.

…I say obviously because I have some exciting news for you guys: I’ve joined the Fairy Tale Central team! Starting this month, I’ll be doing some guest posting. If you’ve hung around this blog (or any of my previous blogs) for any amount of time, I’m sure you’ve probably noticed how dear to my heart fairy tales and their history are to me.

Speaking of history…my first post tackles the origins of this month’s featured fairy tale, “Snow White and Rose Red!” This story stands out from the other Grimm’s fairy tales for a very specific reason, so it was a lot of fun to delve into its history a little more.

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This story is one I find that people are either very familiar with, or haven’t heard of at all. Though it’s a “newer” tale, it incorporates a lot of classic and traditional fairy tale motifs and elements. But of course, I won’t go too much into that here 🙂 You can find my post up now on the Fairy Tale Central blog.

Fairy Tale Central is Here!

Guys, I’m so excited to share a project some very lovely people have been working on! So, without further ado…

Once Upon a Time two girls had a dream. A dream of a fairy tale site, an internet library, if you will, for all the fairy tale lovers of the land to gather and converse. To learn, to read, to fangirl/boy, to bask in the goodness that is fairy tales.

As this dream blossomed, the two girls recruited a third. Because, after all, all good fairy tales come in themes of three.

With the third member in place, the girls got to work. The dream began to take shape, until it was no longer just a dream. But something real.
Introducing…

FAIRY TALE CENTRAL

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This newly launched site run by Arielle Bailey, Faith White, and Christine Smith is your source for all things fairy tales.

Every month a single fairy tale will be featured, and posts will include:

  • Reviews for retellings/shows/movies/etc.
  • Essay, origin, and discussion posts on the featured fairy tale
  • Interviews with fairy tale retelling authors
  • Galleries featuring fairy tale artists and artisans
  • And a whole lot more!

The FTC’s goal is to unlock the magic that is fairy tales and build a community of fellow fairy tale enthusiasts. Arielle, Faith, and Christine are thrilled to share this new fairy tale centric space and connect with all you epic fairy tale fans!

You can CLICK HERE to find the site and join the Fairy Ring! (Don’t worry, you won’t be enchanted or cursed.) And, if you want to connect even more, you can find the FTC on:

(If you’re inclined to share about the FTC in those places too, you may or may not be blessed by a fairy godmother. *smile, smile*)

Do tell a friend, or a dragon, or the fairy living in the hollow tree behind your house. All humans and mythological creatures alike are welcome!

Doesn’t it all sound fabulous? And the new website is GORGEOUS! This month’s fairy tale focus is on Rumplestiltskin -one of the most well-known of the obscure fairy tales- which, I think, makes it a perfect one to start with! I can’t wait to sink my teeth into all the magical goodness FTC has to offer.