Keeping Fairy Tales Fresh
When I do school visits, I talk to students about giving fairy tales a “twist” in order to make the stories fun and interesting. During the process of writing my UnFairy Tale Life series, I’ve been doing the same thing: taking fairy tale ideas and putting my own spin on them. Even though my books aren’t technically fairy tale retellings (since they’re not based on specific tales) they’re still inspired by the stories I’ve loved ever since I was young.
During my school presentations, I also talk about audience expectations. The fun of fairy tale retellings is that we know how the stories are supposed to go, but we read on to see how those expectations will be challenged. To build off of this idea, I have students come up with a short fairy tale as a group. Then we answer three questions:
1. If this fairy tale were a movie, what type of movie would we expect it to be? (e.g. drama, animated film, etc.)
2. If this fairy tale were a movie, what type of movie would we not expect it to be? (e.g. action, documentary, etc.)
3. Based on what we know about the main character, who would be a good villain for this story?
These three questions are essentially the same ones that I ask myself when I’m brainstorming fairy-tale-inspired stories. I love taking a familiar concept—a mermaid—and giving it an unexpected twist—a mermaid who hates being in the water because it makes her skin pruney. Not only does this kind of “twisting” make me giggle, but it also helps me to make fairy tale ideas feel fresh.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love getting lost in the “once up on a time” feeling of traditional tales. But I also love seeing those stories completely turned on their heads. The unexpected doesn’t have to be funny, but it should feel unique. That way, the “fairy tale with a twist” will both remind readers of the original story and make them feel like they’re getting to know a tale that’s completely new.
Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. She was named the 2006-2007 Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library and a winner of the 2009 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award. Currently, Anna lives outside of Boston with her husband and their adopted black Labrador, Emma.
When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time teaching, reading, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. Her first novel, My Very UnFairy Tale Life, was released by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky in November 2011. The sequel, My Epic Fairy Tale Fail, is coming in March 2013, and the third book in the trilogy, My Sort Of Fairy Tale Ending, will be out in November. You can visit her at www.annastan.com.
Thanks so much, Anna! Check out the trailer for MY EPIC FAIRY TALE FAIL here.