I hope that you aren’t under the impression that fairy tales are stories for children.
A really good fairy tale is frightening, disturbing, and a warning. They can be watered down to entertain little ones, but it’s hard to completely rob them of their core menace. Look at any fairy tale for a few minutes and what you’ll see is this: you are not safe.
A fairy tale is a very specific form of story telling. Sometimes I’m not even sure that one can sit down and create a fairy tale out of thin air. They seem to coalesce, to form on their own. Yes, they have structure, but they also have deep roots.
And that’s what makes them so intriguing for a writer. To write one, and write one well, you have to open that closet door, look under the bed, and peek into that dark basement corner. You have to confront what frightens you and let that primal urge to both flee and press on to battle within yourself. It’s time to take a walk in the woods.
There is not so much a formula for writing fairy tales as there is a form. As a writer you can start with stories you’ve heard all of your life, or you can use a memory of fear or a frightening place. Open that door, switch on the light. Stand there and look down the stairs. What did you hear? Did something move? What’s hiding in those shadows?
Don’t worry about the deeper meanings. Those will come on their own. What makes a great fairy tale or fable is that depth, but you shouldn’t worry about that right now. Focus on the fear, the mystery, and most importantly, that thing that won’t let you turn away, that makes you want to press deeper into the forest and see just what that thing is.
Just start with that. “Once upon a time there was a little boy who was afraid of the thing in the basement”. Let’s see where that takes you. Press into the dark, let your imagined fear be real, and find the strength and cleverness to triumph. Find the thing that let’s you defeat the big bad wolf and to go on to legend. Don’t’ worry about the moral of the story, just tell the story.
For today’s assignment, write a fairy tale based upon a remembered childhood fear.
Don’t be afraid. For every “Once Upon A Time” there’s a “And they lived happily ever after.” Or at least a really good story.
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