(It's been a crazy few weeks and my work schedule has been temporarily flipped around, which means I'm working my normal ten hour shift on Wednesdays ... hence the lack of a mid-week post.)
I posted a few weeks ago about my recent short story publication, "For As Many Dawns," which was based on the fairytale / fable The Buried Moon. I adore fairytales, myths, fables and ballads, many of which share influences and borrow storylines. Often, the lines between these different types of tales blur, and classifying them is a matter of personal taste.
I grew up on D'aulaires' Book of Greek Myths and the varying Andrew Lang colored fairy books. One of my earliest attempts at a short story was a rewrite of the Pandora myth, where Barbie was Pandora. I've never grown out of the fascination. The title track of my CD, Rolling Of The Stone, is an Appalachian ballad which is a distortion of a Scottish ballad, The Twa Brothers. The original story is about two quarreling brothers, one of whom slays the other, and ends with the dead brother's beloved weeping over his grave. In Rolling Of The Stone, the focus is on the beloved, Annie, who uses her tabor to charm her lover out of the grave.
As a writer, I love using fairytales (myths, legends, etc) as the basis for a story. I think they appeal to readers, too, because the elements are deeply archetypal, often subconsciously absorbed. And because of that, there's an implicit understanding: you can take shortcuts or start in the middle, and (generally) readers will know exactly the landscape they've been dropped into.
I admit the lazy element, too: there's a built plot outline with using a fairytale. But then again ...
The fairytale is ripe for a plot twist, for subverting the expectations and taking an unexpected turn. How do you figure out where to turn? A great place to start is to take a good, hard look at fairytale logic, which is often poetic rather than rational. For instance, how in the world did Cinderella's prince find her by footwear alone? (I'm sure someone's written a story where the prince picks the wrong person because he happens to come across another girl with minuscule feet first ...)
Another fun way to play with fairytales is to transport them to an unexpected setting. I once partook in a writers' challenge on the premise to take a favorite fairytale and then set it in a speculative subgenre you weren't comfortable with. I rewrote "The Six Swans" as a cyberpunk tale, reworking the main character's prohibition against speech into being forbidden to plug into the network.
And the current short story I'm working on? It's based on The Flower Queen's Daughter (found in one of the Lang books, though I'm not sure which), and starts with the moment where the hero proposes to the princess he's rescued ... and she says no. The flashback explores a fairy's broken (or is it?) promise to him and the events that followed.