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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Fairy Tale 2.0 - Modernizing Your Favorite Tales ~ from Jessica Grey, author of Awake

Today we've got Jessica Grey, author of Awake and Views from the Tower, here to talk about the adaptability and bottomless potential of fairy tales, why we love them so much, and what it's like to take a fave and make it modern.

She's also offered up a couple of giveaways for you lovely FTFers, so make sure you check that out at the bottom!
And make sure to stop by A Backwards Story later in the event for our interview with Jessica!

Fairy Tale 2.0 - Modernizing Your Favorite Tales

I love fairy tales. I love reading them. I love reading and watching adaptations of them.  I love writing adaptations of them.  As a reader/movie & television watcher I have yet to come across a fairy tale adaptation concept that I was completely unwilling to try.   Of course there are ones that end up working better than others and some that could have worked and didn’t for various reasons. But I’ve never heard a fairy tale adaptation idea and thought “Nope, no way.”  My usual response is more along the lines of “Say what now? Veeerrry interrrreeesting...tell me more.”

Why? Because fairy tales are infinitely adaptable.  The themes and characters are often a part of our broader culture consciousness—and not just because we all watched Disney movies as kids, but because these stories have been told over and over in so many ways for centuries and they tap into how humans think and feel.

Because I love fairy tales so much and was fed a steady diet of them as a kid, my writing naturally tends toward fairy tale adaptations.  In my first novel
Awake: A Fairytale, I set Sleeping Beauty in modern day Los Angeles. My next book, Atone: A Fairytale centers around characters from Awake and is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  I’ve also written a collection of short stories that are different takes on popular tales.  

As I’ve spent times with these stories, looking to adapt and/or “modernize” (or really, “post-modernize”) them, the first question is always: what is the essence of the story?  In the case of Sleeping Beauty is it just the idea of a “long sleep” that makes it recognizable?  Sometimes what we culturally accept as the most important parts of the story might not even be in the oldest versions of the tale—like a kiss of true love breaking the curse.  These elements act as sign posts for the audience and I’ve found that as an audience member I’m more than willing to travel down new paths as long as I’m given these guides.  In Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, for example, we are given a lot of the traditional elements of Cinderella: step-sisters and a step-mother, a fancy dress ball, even a more *wink wink* element like an orange car to serve as a pumpkin. Even though the setting is new we feel like we are oriented within a story we know.

I cannot stress enough how important I think these sign posts are.  Of course, every author and every reader will place a different value on elements of the story.  In my case, it wasn’t just the long sleep that was important to me in retelling Sleeping Beauty.  I wanted the sleep to be magical in nature and I wanted the curse to have originated from jealousy.  I also thought the true love and kiss elements, though not really a part of the oldest versions of the story, have become a part of the audience’s understanding of the tale and could be played with in fun ways.

So once you’ve got your basic elements, what are some fun ways to modernize / re-imagine fairy tales? Here are my top three!

*Disclaimer* Obviously there are more than three ways, and all of these can be used in conjunction with each other in new and creative retellings.  This is not necessarily a “create a kick butt fairy tale adaptation in three easy steps” list, but it’s a good place to start!

  1. The setting.  I honestly do not believe there is a setting that you couldn’t use.  Of course it depends on the tale and what you want to highlight in it.  I mentioned earlier Marissa Meyer’s Cinder which is set in a dystopian almost Firefly-esque world.  I’ve set The Frog Prince in Regency England, Sleeping Beauty in modern day L.A., Snow White and Rose Red in the mountains of Montana during the gold rush...what’s important is that the setting works for your retelling and that whatever your setting you stick with the elements you believe embody that tale.

  1. Role or plot reversals.  

  • Maybe the bad guy is the good guy. The children’s picture book, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by A. Wolf is still one of my favorite examples of this.  

  • Maybe it’s the princess riding in on a white horse and saving the day.  I’m a huge fan of gender role reversal.  Fan doesn’t even cover it, I’m a total sucker for it.

  • Maybe a main point in the traditional plot is turned on its head or exploited for fun. In Awake I chose to focus on the spell being broken by true love—when Sleeping Beauty was kissed by a guy that wasn’t her true love she woke up—but the curse transferred to him.  (Two-for-one special on gender role and plot reversal!)

  1. Mash-ups or mixing of character roles/plots.  Once Upon a Time is, of course, a great example of this. Even within a show that is one big mash-up the Rumplestiltskin and Belle relationship is a frankly genius example of two tales being mixed in a way that changes how you look at both stories.

While all of these are fun ways to play on the audience’s conception of a traditional fairy tale, with any story the most important aspect is the characters and their story.  It doesn’t matter if the setting is interesting and the concept is clever if we don’t care about the characters.  While writing Awake I realized the fairy tale elements had to support the modern love story between Alexandra and Luke.  The same is true for the second in the series, Atone.  Yes, it’s a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but more importantly it’s about the relationship between Becca and Nicholas.  Even the most interesting re-imagining can fall flat if we can’t connect with the characters.

While there’s no magic formula for re-writing a fairy tale, both readers and authors have devices we like best.  I’ve already admitted to being a huge fan of gender role reversal.  What do you like to see in your fairy tale re-imaginings?

Jessica has kindly offered up two prizes for Fairy Tale Fortnight readers! One winner (US/CAN) will win a paperback copy of Awake: a Fairytale, and a second winner (INTERNATIONAL) will win an e-book prize pack of Awake and Views from the Tower! This giveaway ends April 10, 2013 at 12am EST. Fill out the Rafflecopter below to enter. Good luck!!
*As with all of the giveaways for Fairy Tale Fortnight, make sure you've already filled out our Giveaway Registration Form - this only needs to be done once!
Please do not leave any sensitive info or email addresses in the comments!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Click here to go back to the Fairy Tale Fortnight Main Page,
where you can access the schedule! Or go here to get involved!
Credit to these awesome Deviants for our button [ 12 & 3]!


  1. I love fairytales and I'm excited to know that Jessica is writing more in this series. I have read Awake already, and LOVED IT. But I love the cover so much that I'd like to win the paperback! :)

  2. I think my favorite retellings have either done role reversals or a plot twist by working in the original tale in an unexpected way.

  3. I love your thought process in "opening up" favorite fairy tales, Jessica! I have a novel (under consideration) that is a mash-up/retelling of The Six Swans and Odds-and-Ends. Told from the prince's point of view. Instead of being about kingdoms and witchcraft, the story is about baseball and the foster care system. Your suggestions on role reversal are fabulous, and I'll have to try that next!

  4. I love how you reason out a new storyline and make books so interesting to read, I myself can read them, but I never will be able to write them. But I do appreciate all you who do write bookis, we could not live without a great book to read..

  5. @Liz - Thanks!

    @Kim - Thanks for the plug :D

    @Tessa - Mine too! I love those unexpected twists.

    @Lex - Oh! See this is where I put on my "TELL ME MORE" face! I love the idea of having it from the prince's point of view..and I ADORE baseball (my hero is a baseball player in Awake, in fact). Plus, when I was growing up we were an emergency placement foster home for LA County - this story intrigues the heck outta me! Good luck!

  6. Love the sound of this book. I'm going to have to buy it if I don't win it. Retellings are one of my favourite reads.

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  8. I think the signposts for the reader are the most crucial aspect of doing a retelling. Done well, they make the reader feel like they're in on a joke with the author. Done poorly, the reader rolls her eyes with a, "yeah yeah, I get it--this is Sleeping Beauty."

    I loved both Awake and Views, and I am DYING to read Atone.

  9. I loved this post because I ADORE retellings. I think a change in setting is my favorite way to go, through gender reversals are fun, too.

  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  11. I want to win both books, but alas I live in the US. That's a first for me! I love the way you think of rewriting fairy tales. It gives me some ideas for some short stories. I was at a loss as how to rewrite some of my favorites, but you've given me some great ideas! What if is a great question to ask.

    Thanks for the insight!!


  12. Heather, what in the world are you talking about? The US IS part of the world, you know... you could still win both! lol

  13. Sounds like a great read, now I just need to get myself a copy for my eyes to scan! haha:)

  14. A re-telling of Rapunzel? That sounds so good! Thanks for the giveaway! Oh, and I love that book cover.

  15. I love Fairy Tales too. A great post thank you.

  16. @Dorothy - Thanks! Thinking through new twists is so much fun!

    @curlypow - Thank you, I hope you enjoy it!

    @Nancy - Yes, it is a delicate balance between giving helpful sign posts and whacking readers over the head with an obvious stick. I'm glad you're excited for Atone 'cause I am too!

    @Shelver - Thanks! I think setting changes are so much fun too!

    @Heather - I'm glad you want to read both! Good luck!

    @Meghan - Thanks! I have the world's best cover designer ;)

    @Mary - Thanks! Good luck!

    Thanks everyone for entering and thanks to Misty for having me!

  17. My favorite fairytale retellings need a blend of something old and something new (things borrowed and blue are optional).

    Those familiar signposts you mentioned are key; if we don't recognize anything from the source tale, where's the fun? But of course some elements need to get switched around or seen from a different point of view, or we'll feel like we're just reading the same story over again.

    The easiest (and hardest) ticket to making a retelling feel wonderful and new is to handle the characters in some original way. Plotlines may repeat, but no two people are exactly alike. So make the characters lovable, or at least intriguing, and I'm game to give the retelling a go. That's what I hope to do with my upcoming "Wilderhark Tales" novella series! :)


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