Welcome to the Dragon's Pen, the blog of an aspiring kiwi author ... chatting about reading, writing, querying and publishing

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Write Me: Pimp that Fairytale!

I thought it might be fun to occasionally put up a writing exercise that might challenge and inspire you. It's amazing how trying your hand at something a little different can improve your writing, help you to pick up on weaknesses, tone your strengths and open your eyes to the various aspects of the craft.

I've been thinking a lot recently about fairy tales, about the magic quality they have that seems to appeal though all the generations. People have been telling fairy and folk tales for thousands of years, and we've never grown tired of them. So how can we as writers capture that illusive magic for ourselves. Why not start with the fairy tale?

The first myth we have to dispel is that fairy tales are for children. This simply isn't true. While we may consider fairy tales children's stories this is a merely modern thinking - Walt Disney has had a big role in perpetuating this myth. You only have to open a book of Grimm's fairy tales to see how dark and brutal the old tales were.

When you pimp a car you strip it down to the essentials, the frame work. You then re-model, re-vamp and re-build the car into something super awesome. We can do the same thing with a fairytale. Strip it down to the basic plot arch ... or take it further still, down to the basic essential elements of a fairytale. Then rebuild. This requires some serious "thinking outside the square."

Lets be honest this isn't a new concept. People have been reworking fairy tales in novels and on the big screen for a few years now, and that's good. It means we have a sources to study. So let's explore a few examples.

The first one that springs to mind is Little Red Riding Hood. Hoodwinked came out a number of years ago and is a great example of a pimped fairytale. The wolf is a jaded reporter trying to catch a break on a story, the Grandma is supergran-meets-superwoman in disguise, and the evil villain is a cute bunny. More recently Red Riding Hood is dark fantasy where a werewolf prowls the night - definitely not for children.

Shrek is another great example. Though the story leans more heavily towards a retelling of Sleeping Beauty it also has undertones of Beauty and the Beast. Fiona is a beast herself, as well as being a not-so-helpless beauty awaiting her Prince Charming. Shrek is a not-so Charming hero, he's a beast, but he's a better man than Charming. The moral of the story? Sometimes true love doesn't wear the face we expect, but when we find it, it's worth every sacrifice to keep it.

Tangled is the latest contribution to a growing fairytale collection. A retelling of Rapunzel where the Hero is no prince, but is in fact a theif. The wicked witch's motivations for taking the child have been changed and are, personally, much more interesting. And Rapunzel is ... delightful.

Okay, so we've looked at a few examples to get our imagination limbered up. (If you can think of any others do mention them in the comments). Now lets consider some of the aspects of the tale we can fiddle with.

Change their gender, ethnicity, age, or "kind" - maybe to some form of mythological or paranormal creature perhaps. Change the number of characters. Maybe there are ten little pigs instead of three; maybe Cinderella only has one step sister and she's sweet and kind instead of a horrid bully; maybe Beauty is a guy and the Beast is a ghost girl.

Change the character's reasons for the things they do and how they do them. Maybe Rapunzel is a vampire and that's why she voluntarily locks herself away in a remote tower. Maybe the Beast is a werewolf or a shape shifter, or maybe he wasn't cursed, but has a horribly disfiguring disease and that's why his family hides him away from the world.

Generally fairy tales have an old time feel, a gothic or medieval setting, but what if you put Snow White in a future time and gave it a Science Fiction setting? What if the Frog Prince was set in Victorian London or in a Steampunk world?

Change the quest or the reasons for it. Maybe Sleeping Beauty's prince is a conman and a thief, maybe he only broke into the castle for all the gold and jewels he could steal. Perhaps he steals a quick kiss from a comatose broad and is really annoyed when he finds himself caught red-handed with all the loot he's carrying away.

Change the conclusion, theme or the lesson learned. Maybe Hansel and Gretel never go home maybe the witch is kind and good and makes a good home for them. Or maybe not, perhaps the witch lives in a grand castle and after she's dead they take over the kingdom and rule in her place. Maybe Snow White never wakes and the prince grows old and bitter or dies of grief.

The possibilities for change are endless and it can be a lot of fun to throw different ideas around. Feel free to mash different tales together and re-work them. I encourage you to have a go at pimping a fairytale. What crazy ideas can you come up with?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Observation and Translation

Today's observation:

Sometimes getting the images out of my head and on to the paper is REALLY hard.

I can see the characters and the scenes so clearly in my imagination but translating them into words is no easy task.

I'm writing a kind of fantasy I never imagined I'd pen, a genre I never thought to dabble in, and it ain't easy.

Can't say more now. I have to keep my cards close to my chest. This is for a competition after all. But, boy oh boy, the sweat and tears I'm shedding over every single word!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Fantasy: Thinking outside the Square.

As secretary for the Dunedin writer's workshop, it was my turn to take the short lesson at last week's meeting. Our next competition in October will be judged by the fabulous Tania Roxborogh and the theme is Speculative Fiction. Many of our members have never written fantasy or Science fiction and were feeling a little out of their depth with the subject. So our lesson for Wednesday was: "Speculative Fiction - what is it?"

I wrote up a basic definition;

"Speculative fiction is the umbrella term for all of the fiction genres that embrace the “other”, by this I mean stories and novels that are a bit outside the square in terms of the “real world”."
And listed a few genres that come under this wonderful umbrella term including elements or themes that are often an important part of each genre. I have restricted myself to Science fiction, Fantasy, Gothic fiction, Paranormal and Fairy tales.

Note, my lists are very simplistic. If we wanted to be really technical each other these genres can be split up into scores of sub-genres - but we won't go there. The whole point behind this was to introduce Speculative fiction novices to the genres of the fantastical genres, to help them understand what makes each one different to it's fellows and to make them feel that writing something so outside their comfort zone is possible and can be FUN!

Science Fiction

  • other worlds; other civilisations; other universes.

  • often futuristic; often involves space or space travel.

  • may involve magic, but usually uses futuristic technologies


  • often “other” lands, sometimes other worlds

  • often (but not always) in a historical setting

  • sometimes a futuristic or alternative twist on a historical culture (ie: steampunk)

  • usually has quests and heroes who save the world, the land, the princess, etc

  • magic is an important element, but the form of the magic varies

  • sometimes magic and technology are mixed

  • often magical items are involved (ie: the ring in Lord of the Rings)

  • sometimes old fashioned technologies with a futuristic twist (ie: steampunk)

  • often characters are connected to royalty … or from among the lower classes

  • often mythical creatures are used; giants, ogres, dragons, flying horses, unicorns, genies and talking creatures, etc.


  • usual set in the real world, cities and towns as we know them

  • may involve the faerie, werewolves, vampires, ghosts, angels, demons, zombies, shape shifters or other creatures of myth who are semi-human.

  • often involves a journey of self-discovery; a love story which must overcome extreme “paranormal” obstacles; a mystery to be solved.


  • elements of horror / terror

  • elements of romance

  • elements of mystery and suspense

  • historical setting

  • prominent features are: supernatural, ghosts, haunted houses, gothic architecture, darkness, death, madness and transgressions, persecuted females, secrets and hereditary curses.

  • may also involve vampires, werewolves, monster, demons, fallen angels, skeletons and ghosts, maniacs, bandits and villains.

Fairy tales and Folktales

  • often (but not always) in a historical setting

  • often teaches the reader something about human character, mostly folktales do this

  • may involve magic or magical items, sometimes quests or tasks must be undertaken

  • evil vs good is a common theme (ie: Rapunzel and Snow White)

  • often mythical creatures are used; giants, ogres, dragons, flying horses, genies, talking creatures, etc. (ie: George and Dragon)

  • sometimes uses bewitched creatures/people (ie: Rose Red and Rose White)

Of course not every story in these genres will have every one of these things is them, but most stories will have one or more of these elements. So for those of you who are new to the fantasy genres I hope this helps you gain an insight into the crazy worlds we write. Perhaps it may even inspire you to try your hand at writing something "other." I hope so.

Enjoy dabbing. Mix things up. Play around with different ideas. Most importantly have FUN with it.

If you're in Dunedin and you're interested in dropping by the Dunedin Writer's Workshop we meet every Second Wednesday of the month at 7.30pm. If you'd like to learn more feel free to email me (you can find my details on the "Who am I?" page at this blog).

In other news: I'm proud to say I've finally finished editing my latest fairytale, Bittersweet. It's nice to have it done and dusted, and looking pretty on my flash drive.
I guess that means it's time to get writing something else.

Monday, August 8, 2011

When Writing is damn Hard: Unclogging the Creative Plughole

In my last post I talked about how life had, once again, conspired to distract me from my writing. After a few days of great productivity, I hit a brick wall as circumstances drained all my time and energy and pumped me full of stress and angst. This left me with nothing to put into my writing. It's fair to say I ground to a screeching halt.

Now that all those stresses are gradually fading into horrors of the past I'm wanting to get back into the writing. However, like a sink where the plughole has become clogged with all kinds of unmentionable gunk, my ability to funnel my ideas on to the paper - or to even access them in the first place - is being hampered by stress. At times like this, getting back into the swing of writing and getting the creative juices flowing again can be really hard.

I feel constipated! There's an uncomfortable blockage in my creativity.

The ideas are building up behind a locked door. I don't have the key. I can't access them.

The frustration builds and can become quite debilitating if it takes me too long to get the ideas flowing again. I become a bit like a caffine addict who has been without their morning hit for five days in a row! It's not pretty. In fact, it can be down right frightening, let me tell you.

So how do I go about unclogging the drain, or finding that magical key?

Editing. Yes, editing.

Editing is methodical. It is deliberate. It requires creativity from me, but not too much.

Picking up a piece of writing that needs to be edited and dealing with it helps me to slowly work me way back into a creative mind set. It picks away at the scum, allowing a trickle of ideas to quickly become a torrent. Ta-da! the blockage is gone, destroyed by the editing process.

When I edit I'm able to push back the worries and the issues of daily life aside and to re-train myself to focus of my writing. Once I'm back in that world - the "other" world of my writing - it becomes easier to slip back into putting words on the page and before I know it I'm writing again.

This is one key in my arsenal that I use to get though those hard patches. It works for me, maybe it'll work for you too.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Are you suffering from distraction?

After two very productive days I've had two unproductive ones. Actually they have been VERY busy but no writing has been done. None what so ever (aside from the blog, but I'm not counting this). Life - as it is want to do - has interfered once more.

On one hand I'm desperate to get back to the writing, on the other hand I'm so exhausted I'm having trouble remembering my name and where I put ...

We are changing our children's schools and so I've been running about visiting various schools talking to teachers, touring schools, listening to philosophies and briefs of what the schools are about; how they can best grow my kids and meet their educational needs. Signing papers and finding old reports and birth certs, buying uniform, and helping my teenage son choose his subjects. So all in all, my head has been rather full of other stuff.

I'd been feeling a bit guilty about my inability to write, in the small moments I've had to think about anything un-school related. Just when I was feeling very glum about it all I read Nathan Bransford blog on Distractions. It was exactly what I needed to hear.

Life will settle back to normal soon. Hubby comes back from his trip away on Saturday and the kids will head off the their new schools next week. Hopefully then I can curl up with my laptop and get the creative juices flowing again.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Dragon Tattoo

I finished writing Bitterheart yesterday, my writing buddy was impressed - in spite of the many typos. (Poor girl, the things I put her though!)

I also began a new story. It's going to be a bit longer than my usual short stories, maybe around the 5000 word mark, maybe longer. It is a modern fantasy - urban fantasy I guess, though not quite paranormal.

The Dragon Stone is the story of a girl with a very different kind of tattoo. A tattoo that can unlock the secrets of her past.

I've never written anything quite like it but I'm really enjoying the way the characters are leaping off the page. The voice of the piece is very unique for me. I'm excited.

The last two days I have done really well in terms of sticking to my goal of writing a min. of 1000 words. I've managed to average about 1500 a day.

Today my total was zilch.

But I guess we need a down day. Of course I have very good excuses for why it didn't happen today; lots of appointments and visiting, kids and their homework and after all that I'm shattered.

I plan to get back into it tomorrow and aim to write another nice chunk of The Dragon Stone. Hopefully life will co-operate.