Unstuck: What to Write When You Don’t Know What to Write – Retell a Story

Retell a fairy tale.

When I was a little girl, we had an in-wall space heater in the basement rec room, the kind I've only seen in cheap hotels, but I am sure that the original decorators thought it was the height of interior design.

Anyway, in the winter, my dad and I would pile blankets next to that space heater and turn it on, and pretend it was a fire, and we were camping. We'd open up bags of marshmallows and cinnamon bears, and my dad would tell me stories.

I always requested some fairy tale or another.

My dad is a patient man, and he always complied. Of course, it gets old just telling the same stories over and over, (or maybe because they had me a little late and is memory was slipping… love you, Dad!) he never told me the same version of any story twice. Robin Hood had many impromptu adventures, Little Red Riding Hood was a mugger out to rob the wolf blind, and the Seven Dwarves once ran a speakeasy.

The stories were never the same. As far as I'm concerned, my father is a master story teller.

So, when our creativity is on the fritz and the stories aren't flowing, when ideas for NaNoWriMo are thin, when we just need to feel fiction happening.

Tell a fairy tale.

Tell it straight, with castles and fairy godmothers. Tell it crooked, with black magic and twisted endings. Tell it modern with no magic, where Jack climbs the corporate beanstalk, or sleeping beauty is a woman in witness protection until her boyfriend finds her.

Don't be afraid of not being original. Fairy tales are important, they are myths that bind us all together as a culture, the stories we cannot get enough of. Ask any hundred people to tell you the story of Cinderella, you will hear one hundred ways of telling it.

We are none of us original, and all of us unique.

Hell, Robin McKinley retold Beauty and the Beast twice. Twice. And the two novels might as well be written by two very different authors.

Let's be inspired by this.

When we're stuck for ideas, when we feel like frauds, when we simply can't pass through the static – no matter how many times we describe our laundry pile, when we just need a good idea to roll with through NaNo, and we simply want to write without worrying about plot, we can turn to the stories we have lived telling since childhood.

Try it; rewrite a fairy tale, or a folk tale, or a myth. Create a greater intimacy with the stories we only thought we knew.

You'll be amazed at just how original the same old songs can be.

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6 thoughts on “Unstuck: What to Write When You Don’t Know What to Write – Retell a Story

    1. Oh definitely. I’m a bit obsessed with fairy tales. My first novel was a play on Beauty and the Beast, only with a vampire. Later, I rewrote The Little Mermaid only with fairies in the mountains. Next was The 12 Dancing Princesses, but of course, twisted about into another tale. I also did two novels with land

      I like to retell with lots of twists and changes, so the stories become surprising again,

      I can notice a fairy tale I’m working around in most of my work, or I work from a myth of some kind. I like to scaffold my stories on the archetypes already recognized by our society, but I give myself a lot of freedom within that scaffolding. Most of the time, no one notices that I have borrowed elements from fables, tales, and myths unless I point it out.

      Boy, I hope that makes sense. If not, I’ll take another stab at it later.

      1. You should do a mini post about it πŸ™‚ You know, if you ever feel lazy (but don’t worry, you dont’ have to tell us that it’s a lazy post) πŸ˜› But it did make sense just so you know πŸ˜€

  1. It’s interesting that you mention this. One of the things I have up on my blog right now is a reinterpretation of Sleeping Beauty’s christening. Reinterpreting fairytales can be fun stuff because you get to take a story you’ve been hearing your whole life and make it yours. As a feminist, I particularly enjoy doing this because it allows me to take all the outdated, sexist tropes and plot lines and fix ’em to my liking.

    tl;dr: good tip. πŸ™‚

    1. Hehe exactly my thinking as well. Your reinterpretation of Sleeping Beauty sounds fascinating.

      I also like to rework the morality of the old tales, update them, if you will. For some reason I am a bit obsessed with the idea of the protagonist having to give up a piece of their humanity to save what they actually care about, like instead of being able to break a curse, one must take on a new curse and live in a different reality.

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