“Ladies. Has it ever occurred to you that fairy tales aren’t easy on the feet?” Kelly Link, Travels with the Snow Queen
Writing a fractured fairy-tale simply means re-working a familiar story in a different way. Writers often use this as an excuse to develop the story’s plot further- adding subplots, new characters or animal companions, putting more investment into the stakes, etc. Some authors play with the tone, making the tale more humorous (such as “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” by Jon Scieszka) or cynical rather than traditional. The morals or lessons involved in the story are modernized or replaced with more influential themes for audiences of the current time. Eventually the original story is sophisticated using dialogue, emotional resonance, and foreshadowing of events that didn’t occur in the original story.
Ways to Rewrite a Fairy-tale
Jon Scieszka, author of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs re-tells the classic story from the POV of the wolf. He adds humor by making the wolf terribly sick. The wolf visits the pigs houses looking for medicine, but accidentally blows the houses down since he can’t stop sneezing.
Choosing another character as the protagonist isn’t too uncommon, but it’s more interesting when a minor character becomes the protagonist rather than the expected stereotypical character like the prince or princess. In her book Cinderella’s Rat Susan Meddaugh writes about one of the rodents turned into a coachman- or coachboy. The story focuses on the coachboy and his own conflicts that occur during the classic Cinderella story, making plenty of troublesome and funny events before the clock strikes twelve!
Other story elements to consider are settings, changing your main character’s gender, creating a new surprise ending, or adding new props, situations, and characters. Take the classic story of Rapunzel for instance, a maiden who married a prince and became a princess. Disney retold the princess’s story in Tangled, providing the maiden with a hidden lineage, a chameleon companion, and magical powers that came from her hair.
Now look at Shannon Hale’s junior graphic novel Rapunzel’s Revenge. Hale transplants the classic tale of Rapunzel into a wild old west setting, where she uses her long braided hair as a lasso and whip to bring justice and freedom to the land. With her companion Jack the beanstalk climber, she faces numerous outlaws- including her evil pseudo mother Gothel. The story is targeted towards six to eight graders, rather than the general young girls audience Disney focuses on.
Writing Your Own Fractured Story
Start with some research. Look at Brothers Grimm, old folktales, and classic mythology. You could even look at fairy-tales re-told in films, but avoid Disney films since they apply a “Disney Princess Archetype” to each story.
Begin writing ideas down for your own story. Consider your audience, tension, pacing, voice or tone, POV, the motivation and development of your main character or protagonist, and the conflict. If you need help nailing down the plot, look at my articles Organizing Your Plot Line and Structure Plot & Stories Easily.
Formatting these thoughts
By now you have a general idea of characters and events for your story. That means you can write a synopsis or summarize your thoughts. You’ll need to limit your words if you’re writing a short story, picture book, graphic novels, or a magazine article. I recommend a 800-1200 word limit. Of course, this could be more if you intend to create a novel or target the teenage audience. Remember to set up the problem or main conflict at the very beginning. All fairy-tales use that in their structure, and your story will seem confused if you don’t follow this. Start writing after you’ve written a synopsis and structured your story. Don’t worry too much about your first manuscript, you’ll be revising several times before it’s over!