On Retelling Fairy Tales

I am by no means an expert in retelling fairy tales, but as I’ve spent close to three years working on various fairy tale retellings, I think I do have a bit of authority on the matter. Fairy tales, since their inception are told and retold and retold again, different each time it is told. I love fairy tale retellings, even the ones I don’t particularly enjoy. Each retelling can tell us quite a bit about the teller, and I find that fascinating.

There’s a lot I could talk about on the subject of fairy tale retellings; in this post I’m going to focus on my retelling process. It is perhaps better to say that some of my stories are inspired by fairy tales, rather than retellings, as my plots are sometimes unrecognizable from the original, save for a few themes.

My process isn’t the same every time I write something inspired by a fairy tale, but it usually follows a somewhat similar trajectory. First I identify which fairy tale I want to work with. Sometimes I know I want to weave two or more fairy tales together from the beginning, and sometimes I start with just one. I read the fairy tale and take note of any themes, characters, settings, or plot points I want to include in my story. When I have finished reading the story I take my notes and arrange them into the beginnings of an outline. Sometimes this outline is very sparse, and sometimes the plot is more complete. I fill in any holes; sometimes I look to another fairy tale (or two) to help me with this, but sometimes I don’t. When I feel like I have enough of an outline, I start writing. Sometimes, as I write, I’ll come up with ideas for other fairy tale themes/characters/settings/plot points I can include. During the writing process, aspects often shift around, get added, or get cut. Sometimes I start writing with a very vague idea, but I tend to do better when I have more of an idea of where I want the story to go. Depending on the length of the story, the need for an outline differs. The longer the story, the bigger the need for an outline.

And that’s about it! If anyone is interested in posts on other aspects of fairy tales or writing, let me know!

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4 thoughts on “On Retelling Fairy Tales

  1. I’m not an outliner. Often I’ll be drawn to a certain tale. Something about it stands out to me in some way. Once I figure out what that element is, I build the rest around it. Sometimes it’ll be fairly faithful to the original, other times it’ll have little resemblance at all!

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    • Some of my retellings are very far from the originals I drew from, which is why I sometimes have a hard time calling them retellings; I don’t want readers to get frustrated that my retellings are so far from the original (I have been known to do this in the past(.

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      • Usually unless it’s recognizable in some way I won’t call it a “retelling”. Depending on how recognizable it is I may go with “re-imagining” or “loosely inspired by”.

        But I’ve had the same experience. If I’m expecting something I can feel cheated if I get something else. Even if I like the work, there’s still a sense that I didn’t get what I was looking for. I don’t want to do that to people!

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