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?


  1. Awesome post! It's got the grey matter humming.

  2. You have a fabulous blog! I want to award you the Magical Blog Award for all the hard work you do!

    Go to http://astorybookworld.blogspot.com/p/awards.html and pick up your award.

  3. Wow Deirdra! Thanks you so much you made my day :)

  4. Great post. I agree that those examples really show what can be done from the original and simpler fairy tale.

  5. Re. your comment about pimping a fairytale. I did exactly that recently with my short story "Suffer the Little Children" (available as a free download from my publisher at www.ghostlypublishing.co.uk). It was a great little exercise and something I've been wanting to do for a long time. :)

  6. Thank you!
    I think I did on my old account, but it was the laaaaame version.
    I might have to again, though. Great idea.