How to Write a Fairy Tale Retelling

Fairy tales have become very popular lately, particularly unique retellings of fairy tales such as The Lunar Chronicles series, Ella Enchanted, Hunted, the ACOTAR series, and many, many others. In fact, the small publisher Rooglewood Press has been hosting a fairy tale retelling contest for a few years now, and they just recently announced this year’s (sadly the last): Snow White. If you’re interested in that, I’ll include a link to the contest page and previous winners below.

If you find you’re one of those people (like me) who is just a sucker for fairy tale retellings and want to try your hand at writing one, how do you going about doing that? Well, there are a few simple steps to make it the best it can be.

  1. Pick something new. Personally, I am tired of the “classic” fairy tales like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Everyone and their mother retells those. What about other classics, like Donkeyskin and the Little Match Girl? I love the story Donkeyskin, but very few authors choose to retell it. Just by picking something lesser known or with fewer popular versions, you will immediately create something that stands apart from the crowd of retellings. In a world saturated with fairy tale stories, that’s a good thing.
  2. Start with the source. Go back to the source material, those first recorded instances of the story. Read the base story before you dive into creating your own version. How can you make a retelling if you don’t know the original? And no, Disney absolutely does not count!
  3. Expand to variations of the source. Look at different variants of the same story. Did you know that many fairy tales have versions in a number of different cultures? A couple years ago, Sleeping Beauty was the theme of the Rooglewood contest, and I hated how passive the heroine was. Turns out, all I needed to do was find a different version, and there she was! My active participant from a Middle Eastern version of the story. Dig around, and it will almost definitely give you ideas and inspiration.
  4. Look at other retellings. Find other, more recent versions of the story you want to tell. Look at how other authors approached the story, what they changed and kept, how it influenced the themes and plot. But don’t stop there! Look at reviews from bloggers and readers of the story. See how the audience reacted to the retelling, the elements they liked and didn’t like. Use this knowledge to your advantage!
  5. Make it recognizable. One of the most important parts of writing a retelling is making sure enough elements are present that the reader knows what story you are retelling. Otherwise, it’s just another story, not a retelling at all. Recognition is key.
  6. Make it new. We are all familiar with classic versions of stories. What readers want is a new take. Maybe there’s something different about the hero and the villain. Maybe the setting is in outer space instead of a woodland. Give your plot twists that may not have been present in the original. Maybe even mix several fairy tales together, like in the Lunar Chronicles. Whatever you decide to do, make it your retelling, not just a copy. Your readers will find it far more interesting that way.

For more reading on fairy tale retellings, you can check out this post from Ink and Quills and this post from Lianne Taimenlore. And if you have any suggestions for writing these kinds of stories, be sure to comment! I’d love to hear your input!

Rooglewood Press 2017 Contest: Five Poisoned Apples
2015 Contest: Five Magic Spindles
2014 Contest: Five Enchanted Roses
2013 Contest: Five Glass Slippers

Friends in Creative Places

A while back you may recall my post titled “The Demons of Discouragement.” Well, after reviewing that post recently, I realized that the discouragement I was feeling has been somewhat alleviated. So I started thinking about why that might be, and I have come to a conclusion: I found the right creative friend. This isn’t to say my other support hasn’t been phenomenal, and I love my friends and family for their support every day. But it’s quite different to have a creative friend doing the same work as you.

Back toward the end of summer I had joined a local writing group that met in the Barnes & Noble closest to where I lived (I still attend every meeting!). About the same time I started going, another woman near my age also began attending. Like me, she had written a book. Like me, it was fantasy. Like me, she was ready to query. Unlike me, she was vocal about it.

So we gravitated together at and around these meetings, talking shop and gushing over our books. She began pushing me to do things I would have avoided out of my introverted, shy nature or because of the cost. With her, I attended a writing workshop in Philly in April. I went to a Sarah J. Maas book signing and discovered that she lives pretty close to me. I traded critiques and reviews of synopses and query letters and drafts.

And you know what? The query process is going so much better. I got a request for my full manuscript at the workshop. I have six queries out in the world, shining in their new and improved status. I feel more confident in what I’m doing, not like I’m just flailing in the dark and hoping to hit something.

But you know what’s even better than all that?

I’m in love with my writing again. Because of her, I’ve had professionals tell me I was talented and skilled (a huge boost for the discouraged writer!). I’ve had a passionate friend who loves fantastic worlds as much as I do. I’ve had opportunities to meet people and grow not only as a writer but also as a person.

And because of her, I’m back.

So what about you? What have you experienced or done that has fueled your creation and your passions? I’d love to hear about it!

The Transformative Power of Snow

Last night I had the first significant snowfall of the winter season.

My parents and grandparents already got to experience this, but because I live in southeastern PA, I don’t get to experience the same mountain weather as they do farther north.

There’s just something about the snow that makes winter seem a little more bearable. I was born in winter, but I can’t say it’s my favorite season (actually, fall is my favorite). It gets cold and miserable. There’s not much daylight to enjoy, which is a big deal to someone who already has low vitamin D from spending so much time in the lab. Everything looks gray and bleak and sad.

Until it snows.

Suddenly instead of gray and bleak and dark, everything is bright white and blue. The snow mutes the sounds, making the air peaceful and calm. The cold isn’t just miserable anymore; it’s crisp and fresh and invigorating. It’s like having a snow day as a kid all over again, and all I want is to watch the snow fall and make soup and hot chocolate and watch Disney movies, cuddled up on the couch with pets and loved ones. It’s filled with comfort and joy and excitement.

And all it took was a single snowfall.

I have been struggling to get back to work on my once-regular writing schedule, around my day job, relationships, and other obligations of course. And seeing the snow takes me right back to the last time I was obsessed with my stories, to another snowy season when my mind was entirely consumed by writing with every free moment.

I was still in grad school, and I lived close enough that every day I walked to and from the lab. Unfortunately that meant that no matter the weather I could make it in. So I would bundle up, pull on my tall boots, and trudge through the un-shoveled snow that was at least up to my knees.

But the whole time, I got to feel the crispness of the winter air, to enjoy the quiet that comes with snow. And let me tell you, that’s a rarity where I had lived. Few people were out and about, cars were scarce, and there was no pressure, since no one was waiting on me to get to school. And it was exactly the inspiration I needed for my work in progress at that time.

I was working on a story that involved a very snowy clime, and being in the snow made it easier to imagine being with my protagonist. Every step I took was another thought she had, another event she encountered. The snow was my inspiration and my encouragement to continue.

And now that I have snow again, I feel that familiar itch of creation. I want to create and write and build worlds and art and beauty. I want not only to write but to paint and draw and be consumed by creation. To be truthful, I don’t know how long it will last or if this will be what I need to get back in my groove. But for now, I’m going to run with it.

I hope the snow can push your inspiration, too.

Starting with a Spark: Ember of Foxfire

It had been a while since I started a completely and wholly new story. Yes, there were a few starts, a couple short stories, a couple incomplete beginnings that have since been largely abandoned, but nothing I’d intended to be a real new world.

You see, I have been working on a series of fantasy novels since 2011. I finally completed my editing process in the month of March 2016 and sent it out to my first potential publisher. I had spent years upon years, countless hours and brain cells, thinking and living and breathing that world.

And then it was time to step back and wait, and I was left in a story vacuum.

After editing for so long, bouncing back from a huge dry spell, and needing something new purely for the joy of creation, I needed fresh inspiration. I thought about how things had started for the previous series. That was simple: I had been watching I Dream of Jeannie and really wanted to tell a story from the perspective of a genie. And it grew and morphed into a new, complex, colorful world filled with characters I loved. Stories I had to tell. Worlds I wanted to explore.

But what about now? All I had was my current fascination with urban fantasy. I was sucked into worlds of werewolves, floating on ocean waves with sirens, dreaming of creatures who prowled the night and fought evil right in our own world or in variations of our world.

And I love it.

But, truth be told, I’m not a huge fan of vampires, I’m not feeling the urge to write beautiful mermaid tales, and the world is saturated with werewolf fiction. So where did that leave me?

I narrowed down that I wanted to write urban fantasy. But I was still without the “fantasy” element. I scoured online lists of mythological beings, writing out notes on selkies, swan maidens, and kitsune, just to name a few. And of everything I read, I kept coming back to the kitsune. I searched for other kitsune fiction, and while it was there, it was sparse and questionable. But I wanted to read about fox shifters. They didn’t have to be perfect kitsune. But they were different and powerful and had a hierarchy already built in to their growth and development. It was the first spark.

And then a character started forming in my mind. A half fox shifter, half human girl just entering her independence in the human world after years of learning from the other fox shifters. She was young, naive, and not exactly popular with her peers because of her parentage. But she was also brave and strong and wasn’t afraid to be both girly and tough.

But what would happen to her? I’m not a huge fan of romance, especially the love-at-first-sight kind that plagues a lot of urban fantasy, so I knew I wanted it to be romance light or romance free. I knew she would have a fully fox brother who was older and more experienced than her. And then I read more about the kitsune. I created a similar North American kitsune lore. I developed the basic plot of what would happen to my character. I knew where she was going and what she would be facing. I knew how she would have to grow. I saw her trials, her enemies, and her friends. I had finally met Ember.

And there it was. I was ready to start creating again.