Saturday, January 26, 2008


Finding Inspiration in Familiar Tales

Have you ever wondered what happened to Hansel and Gretal after they pushed the witch into the oven and returned home to their father? Was Glenda really a good witch or just an opportunist who used Dorothy to get rid of her competition? Did Alice really fall down a rabbit hole? And what’s Rumpelstelskin’s real story? Don’t know the answers? That’s because they’re waiting for you to write them!

Re-imagining/re-writing old tales is not a new idea. In fact, as a middle-school teacher, I read many of them. I often asked my students to re-create their favorite fairytales. Now as a writer, I can better appreciate the value of the exercise. It’s a great creative tool – especially for those of us who hate starting with a blank page or have a hard time creating a new character from scratch. It’s also easy to do. Based on what you know about a character, ask questions about their story, family, and personality. See if what you think you know about them holds up as you create a character profile. Who knows, you may breathe new life into an old favorite or create a new character that you can use.

For example, The Looking Glass Wars is the first book in a trilogy by Frank Beddor. The author recasts Lewis Carroll’s Alice as a young princess, Alyss Heart, who flees the high-tech, magical world of Wonderland after her parents are killed in a murderous rampage lead by Alyss’s aunt Redd. Alyss finds herself in Victorian London, and after a series of circumstances meets Lewis Carroll, who promises to write her story. She tells him her violent and heartbreaking story, but Carroll creates a whimsical, nuisance story instead. In the end, Alyss battles Redd for possession of the throne.

What impressed me most is the creative way that the author approached an old, beloved story. Frank Beddor’s Wonderland is rich and vivid, modern and fantastical. His card soldiers are high tech robots; the Cheshire Cat, a shape shifting assassin; the Queen of Hearts is the maniacal Redd, determined to behead anyone who gets in her way.

After reading this book, I decided to give re-writing a favorite story a try. You can use a character from any story, but I like to use fairytales and legends because the characters are flat and easy to manipulate.

So far, I’ve discovered that the Gingerbread man was a general in a clone army, and Rumplestelskin and his wife filed a custody suit again the royal family for breach of contract.

So the next time you need to boost your creativity, try visiting some old friends. They may provide the key to sparking your imagination.



Blogger Margo Dill said...

I absolutely love WICKED (the muscial and the book) as well as the sequel SON OF A WITCH. I think it is a brilliant to use characters we all know and love and tell their back story or what happened happily ever after! Thanks for your blog.


7:47 AM  
Blogger Cher'ley said...

I enjoyed most of Wicked. I could see many places I would have done it differently. I was wondering if any writer could just pick up on another writer's story and run with it. Like the story of OZ.

I think I'd really enjoy redoing some fairytales.

7:54 AM  

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