I love Fairy Tales. They have a timeless quality to them that I find charming. Whenever I’m struggling for ideas for a story (or for a blog…) I tend to see myself going back to them for inspiration. So, in the simplest way possible I thought I’d break down the structure of a fairy tale, and then offer a couple of writing prompts that I’ve either done myself or thought of using.
Disclaimer: I am no expert in Fairy Tales, and you can take parts from this list out or add some in depending on the tale. There are people way smarter than me who’ve written about this and you should check them out, but here are the basics:
Common Fairy Tale Structure:
1a. The Protagonist is given a task to complete.
1b. The Protagonist is in a bad situation out of their control.
2.The protagonist is told not to go somewhere, goes there anyway. In the case of 1a they meet the antagonist because of this, in case of 1b the antagonist is the one who told them to do it in the first place.
3. The Antagonist uses some means of deception to trick the hero into a bad / worse situation.
4. Some form of outside assistance aids the Protagonist.
5. The Protagonist gets to their goal, whatever that may be.
6 . The Protagonist and Antagonist clash, either physically, mentally or with words.
7. The Antagonist is defeated.
8. Happily Ever After
Additional Common Elements:
Magic of some kind or another
Talking or Anthropomorphic animals
A guardian, of some sort.
Class struggles (usually with the poor beating the rich or the poor becoming rich.)
Physical representations of human virtue or vice
Child protagonist vs. Adult Antagonist
Using these elements combined with the common structure, you can write your own fairy tale. But here are some additional prompts to jump start the process or shake things up a bit.
Writing Prompt #1: Mix It Up
To create something new and different, play around with a rigid structure like a fairy tale. I find that if you just change the anticipated order of events around, even a little bit, it has a significant impact on the flow of the story. It’s challenging but the final work should be interesting, and entertaining to read.
Writing Prompt #2: Villain’s Perspective
Done in movies like Mirror Mirror, but write your fairy tale again. This time from the antagonist’s perspective. There is an old saying that goes “Every villain is the hero in their mind.” So writing the story from their perspective will help you create a rounded, interesting and perhaps even sympathetic antagonist when you’re ready to revise your piece.
Writing Prompt #3: The Shape of Your Story
I read an interesting article a few years ago, plotting out some of the most well-known types of stories and graphing them based on the characters level of happiness at the time. There were some fascinating results. So this prompt is inspired by that. Take a piece of writing you’ve done, and graph the mood of the main character like you would a math problem. The X-axis being time, and the Y-axis being the character. If the character is happy, good or in a beneficial situation the graph goes up. If the character is unhappy, bad or in a detrimental situation, then the graph goes down. In the end, take a look at the shape. Does it have hills and valleys? A sharp increase or decrease? Visualizing might prove useful for future revision.
Meet the blogger:
CODY ROGERS is a fiction writer, gamer, anime fan and an overall “nerd” personified. He graduated with an AFA in creative writing from Normandale Community College and obtained his BFA from Hamline University. His dream is to team up with an artist and write graphic novels.
What Happens When A Man Falls From The Sky, by Lesley Nneka Arimah, Reviewed by Chavonn Williams Shen
What Happens When A Man Falls From The Sky
Lesley Nneka Arimah
Reviewed by CHAVONN WILLIAMS SHEN
When I was first given the task to write a book review for Lesley Arimah’s What Happens When a Man Falls From the Sky, I excitedly accepted, as Lesley had been my mentor from my very first writing fellowship and I was familiar with her and her work. When it came time to actually write the review, I procrastinated extensively, because I knew I would have to take notes, many of which would likely be in the book, but mostly because I was afraid to ruin its magic. Reading this book is enchanting in its truest definition. I finished it at such a speed that I really did feel bewitched, which is a fitting adjective given its content.
This collection’s dexterity is on full display as of technicality meets emotion in each stories. She covers a myriad of topics with a deceptive ease that I’m inclined to compare it with Athena’s creation where she sprung fully formed from Zeus’s head. Such are the skills of an excellent writer.
I am a poet by profession, therefore I tend read fiction like a poet and Lesley writes fiction like a good poet. She has a careful ear for sound, especially for some of the more fantastical stories. The musicality of it all just adds another layer of magic when read aloud, especially since this aspect is often neglected in fiction.
Another poetic device observed in her work is the sudden turn towards the end. Lesley doesn’t do the proverbial exposition-action-resolution formula. Instead she ditches Freytag’s pyramid in favor of her own structure in which the climax functions as both the highest point of tension and the ending. This volta, for lack of better word, works best when story’s conflict is introduced right away, thus keeping the story’s frenzy throughout. This stories within held my attention hostage and only released it when I could no longer stay awake. It’s really that good.
Surely the star of the collection is “Who Will Greet You at Home” where joy is used as currency and living ragdolls are commonplace. In this story, a lonely woman creates a child from scraps of hair with horrific results. The ending is satisfyingly sinister, but in a way that leaves no loose ends rather than promoting further terror. In a similar fashion, her other stories are so tightly written that when I am in want for the inner workings on how Ike’s dead mother stepped out of a photograph and into a mattress store (“Second Chances”), or for more details about the ant god’s and river god’s pasts (“What Is a Volcano?”), I know I ask selfishly and not because of anything missing on the writer’s part.
What Happens When a Man Falls From the Sky is a rare find that balances culture, mortality, and illusion in ways that are both accessible and captivating. Writers of all genres beware – Lesley Arimah is one to watch.
Meet the blogger:
CHAVONN WILLIAMS SHEN was the winner for the 2018 Beecher’s Magazine poetry contest judged by Ely Shipley and a first place winner for the 2017 Still I Rise grant for African American women. She was also a 2017 Best of the Net Award finalist, a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee, and a 2016 fellow through the Givens Foundation for African American Literature. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Indianapolis Review, Burningword Literary Journal, Aquifer: The Florida Review Online, and other publications.
Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction
Reviewed by MAYA WESMAN
Benjamin Percy’s book Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction is a joy to read. As a writer, I am always looking for insight from other writers, especially those who are experienced, published, and seem to have a love of passing on the craft. Percy outlines this book in sections that focus on different aspects of writing fiction, making it easy to pick up and read just one chapter in a sitting. The chapters are short, contained essays that not only provide a witty explanation of how to execute certain things within your own writing, but are written in a style that I have yet to read in any other book about craft. This book really is something wonderful.
Right from the beginning Percy dives into the distinction between written works that are considered “literary”, and those that he says are interesting and attention grabbing. He outlines his love of reading as a young child, and how he was always drawn to the books about monsters, aliens, robots, dragons, and everything in between. He discusses the unfortunate disparity between what the literary community seems to see as worth reading (literature) due to its highly intelligent themes and deep messages, and what the community seems to view as rather pedestrian writings (genre), that serve only to entertain young children who have yet to reach the ability to grasp, and truly appreciate “great literature”.
In response, Percy says that while that “great literature” is in fact great, it often loses what he calls the ability to “thrill’. Being the basis for the title of this book, Percy’s support of thrilling content in literature is a welcome change to the conversation that, for years, has been dominated by voices in favor of “classic literature”. Now I’m not saying that you don’t have thrilling parts of classic works like Lord of the Flies, but that’s not quite what Percy is looking for. What Percy prescribes for this ‘thrill deficiency’ is more along the lines of epic, high fantasy, and hard sci-fi. He’s looking for things more like the Wheel of Time series than Of Mice and Men.
Percy’s Thrill Me, extends the conversation within the literary community to include those who simply love to read engaging, exciting books that serve to address people’s sense of wonder and imagination, allowing readers of all ages, interests, backgrounds, and experiences to engage with one another about a common love of excitement that seems to jump right out of the pages.
Meet the blogger:
MAYA WESMAN is a recent BFA graduate from Hamline University with a Creative Writing major. She loves writing fantasy and science fiction, and one day hopes to author children’s books. She believes that through stories we can explore what it really means to be humans in a complex world.
Let’s face it. Writing can definitely feel like the WORST (P.S. You get a million and five extra credit points if you read that in a Jean-Ralphio voice.). You are alone in your room or maybe you have a sleeping cat on your lap like me, and you’re in the constantly cycle of writing, rewriting and editing. It becomes incredibly overwhelming. Parks and Recreation will calm some of those nerves!
I know, I know, you’ve heard this rant before but we’re talking about Pawnee, Indiana! Since Parks and Rec centralizes around the government in a small town in Indiana, the setting plays a huge role as it decides what problems will arise. What would Pawnee be without Little Sebastian, being fourth in obesity or the Sweetums company? Pawnee would be an unoriginal town that didn’t create conflict. So what did the writers do? They started with the rubric of a standard town and put specific, concrete quirks on top of it to make it unique. You don’t have to start from scratch, you can use your hometown.
The characters are so strong in Parks and Recreation it blows my mind. You can read the script and not know the names of the characters and still know exactly who said it. Each character has their own vulnerabilities. Even Ron Swanson, the definition of masculinity has his weaknesses. He loses control when around any of his ex-wives. Without this, he would just be strong all the time and be boring.
- Secondary Characters (supporting cast)
Okay, so this is kinda piggybacking off number two, but if your secondary characters aren’t engaging and unique then there’s nothing for your main characters to work with. Each secondary character poses an obstacle for the main characters. Councilman Jamm is constantly messing things up for Leslie and Jean-Ralphio annoys everyone. But these characters also need to be round. Everything secondary characters do needs to reflect who they are.
Everything is intentional and purposeful. Everything needs to be there for a reason. There’s nothing in Parks and Rec that happens just to happen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen submissions get denied because something about it was not purposeful or intentional. I used to be the writer that would put in fluff things that I thought were cool and the reader could just figure out whatever it meant, even though I didn’t. Don’t make this same mistake! I did not know what I was doing! I’ve learned: be intentional and embrace your work and what you want it to do.
Parks and Rec is the best. Just make sure everything in your work is uniquely yours and you will do amazing things. If you get stuck, just watch this stellar example of setting, character, and plot development. I mean, it is basically research. That’s what I will be doing!
Meet the blogger:
REBECCA HIGGINS is a recent graduate of Hamline University with her B.F.A. in Creative Writing program. Her work can be found in Canvas, The Fulcrum, The Oracle and American High School Poets. Rebecca has worked with Red Bird Chapbooks, Redleaf Press, Sparkhouse Family, and now, Runestone. She can often be found cuddling with her cat, Remmy, while of course watching Parks and Recreation.
“Write what you know.”
An old adage for writers going back to who knows when that basically means writing stuff you’re familiar with is easier. Which is bullshit.
If that’s the case, nobody should ever write a character different from them.
In pursuit of writing diverse characters, I’ve noticed that I’ve been less than impressed with a number of portrayals of queer people, people in the LGBTQIA+ community.
I’m here, I’m queer, and I want to talk about how straight cisgender writers can better write queer characters.
- Being queer shouldn’t be the only aspect of the character’s identity. (I emphasize this because it’s possibly the single most important – and off-putting – mistake I’ve seen people make).
Don’t treat being queer as a fashion statement or something “exotic”. If there is nothing else you take from what I’ve written, it’s that queer people have personalities outside being queer. If you’re listing off a character’s personality and attributes and the first thing that comes to mind is “queer” you should take a look at their characterization and work on it more. Queer people have all kinds of personalities – just like straight and cisgender people. Just as different subcultures exist in cisgender and heterosexual communities, and equal number exist in the queer community as well.
- Presenting queerness as something “other”.
Queer characters are sometimes included in a piece as some kind of statement or a driving force of characterization or narrative – making the focus on the queerness itself – as opposed to it being integrated organically as one aspect of a multifaceted character. When straight people are in a piece it’s not about them being straight, when queer people are in a piece, this tends to be used as a kind of “selling point” as to why it’s worth reading, a main focus of the plot.
Thanks for trying to compress my identity into a blurb on the back of a movie box.
Sarcasm aside, a similar question to the one I mentioned above should be asked: Is this character queer as a natural part of their identity or is it being inserted artificially for some other reason?
- Forcing gay relationships on otherwise straight characters.
This happens a lot in fanfiction – characters who are established by the actual work as being straight suddenly having a revelation and realizing how horrible the opposite sex is and becoming gay – or even taking a character’s gender expression and running amok with it, deciding that they’re “really” trans.
It’s demeaning, it’s infantilizing, it’s (again!) making it all about them being queer. I don’t mind it if it’s a natural progression of a close relationship, but having two characters suddenly become “gay for each” other without a reason beyond shipping brings about a mental groan whenever I see it.
- Oversexualizing the situation.
This is a trend I’ve noticed when reading when it comes to straight people writing queer characters: Men writing lesbians, and women writing gay men, tend to oversexualize the relationships for the straight audience. Both straight men and straight women tend to focus on the sexual act aspect of same-sex relationships and unwittingly turn it into a fetish show for fellow straight people.
The most obvious example that comes to mind is yaoi. While I do appreciate representation, it’s painfully obvious that it’s written by straight women for straight women and that gay relationships are being turned into fetish fuel without any regard to the individual characters themselves. Yuri is also an offender – the women aren’t gay because of any organic aspect of their sexuality, it’s all about the male gaze and sexualizing them for straight men.
I realize that all this might be begging the question “So if there’s all this stuff that I could do wrong, should I just avoid writing queer characters altogether?”
I don’t think so. I think, if you look back over what I’ve spoken of, lots of it focuses on queer characters being treated as tools or commodities rather than actual characters or people with their own stuff going on, unique personalities and life goals, talents and ambitions. My best advice? Write queer people as, well, people, and you’ll be fine.
Meet the blogger:
CONNOR BYRNE is constantly lost in the world of words, words, words and not enough in the physical, but in this field that’s probably a good thing. He wants to be a fiction writer but generally gravitates towards poetry. Weird how that works.