Using Fairy Tales in Your Writing

In June, I read two very different books that both draw on fairy tales and folklore to inspire their stories and settings. Today I’m going to be talking about Uprooted by Naomi Novak and House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig. First, I’m going to give you an overview of what these books have to offer and then compare them to demonstrate how unique books inspired by fairy tales can be. If you love fairy tales and want to use them in your writing, this blog will give you an idea of the different types of stories you can create.

I read House of Salt and Sorrows first, and it was a deliciously creepy start to my summer reading. It straddles the line between fantasy and horror, and Craig paints an atmosphere so real that you can almost taste the salt in the air. The story follows Anneleigh as she investigates the murder of her sister, the fourth death that the family has suffered over the past decade. As she scrambles to prevent another death, she realizes that supernatural forces are at work on her island home.

“The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” a Grimm’s fairytale, inspired Craig’s book. In the original story, a king is puzzled by his daughters’ nightly disappearances and offers his eldest daughter in marriage as a reward to the man who can figure out where they are going. The wily princesses drug most of the men who are sent to spy on them, but one clever man succeeds in finding out that the princesses are visiting the fairy realm every night and dancing the night away.

House of Salt and Sorrows features nods to the original tale, including dancing shoes that get worn out prematurely, and lavish, eerie balls. The story takes a much darker turn than the original and not in the way that I anticipated. Craig also makes up her own mythology and creates a unique world that is recognizable but not cliche. The pacing was similar to a thriller, and I couldn’t put it down until I found out how it ended.

Uprooted by Naomi Novak also draws from fairytales. The author is Polish-American, and she was influenced by Polish folktales, including stories about Baba Jaga. The setting will be familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of European folklore –a small village at the edge of an evil forest, a wizard who lives in a tower and takes a girl every ten years. Novak subverted and expanded on these tropes to create a unique story that is both delightful and terrifying.

The pacing is much slower than in House of Salt and Sorrows, more of a traditional fantasy book pacing than the fast-paced, thriller pacing of the latter. That’s not to say that Uprooted lacks action. There are plenty of edge of your seat moments interspersed with the slower character building sections. Novak’s characters shine. They live in a world filled with trope-y story elements, but they are individuals who react in realistic ways to their circumstances. No one is who you would expect them to be.

Both Novak and Craig spent time expanding the setting of their stories beyond the original scope of the fairy tales that inspired them. Each of these books creates an atmospheric experience for the reader and puts them in a place where bizarre, magical happenings seem both plausible and wondrous.

They also created complex characters, rather than the flat characters typically found in fairytales. Both books deliberately defy expectations about fairytale heroines by making the main characters strong, independent, and flawed. Agnieszka, the heroine of Uprooted, is especially unique. She’s always getting dirty no matter how hard she tries not to, she’s not regarded as being good looking, and she’s hopeless at the type of magic that is considered sophisticated. It turns out that her own magic is in line with who she is: organic, disorderly, and as powerful as nature.

If you want to create your own story based on fairy tales or folktales, you don’t have to feel pigeonholed into writing just one kind of tale. You can use as much or as little of the original story as you’d like and expand on the elements that you find most interesting. You can create a swords -and- sorcery type story or go with a modern or futuristic interpretation. You can keep things light or delve into the darkest aspects of the folklore. The options are endless!

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