How to Use Myths, Legends and Fairy Tales in Your Fiction

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From myths, legends and fairy tales to folklore: again and again, these old tales reappear in modern fiction. But how do you use them in your novel?

Why Reuse Tales?

Old tales aren’t copyrighted; what you can do with them is only bound by your own imagination. Not only are they a great source of inspiration, but they can add another layer of story for your reader to engage with.

Even their original form is still alive and well today. There is something fundamentally human in the sense of something dangerous about the woods, something magical and unexplainable just around the corner.

Myths are not just for dry, dusty old anthropology professors to muse over in their ivory towers – they’re living stories which we continually reinvent for the times we live in.” – Lucy Coats

What has been the impact of these time-defying stories? Holly Black believes the stories have become central to our being, residing in our subconscious and defining how we see the world.

Do we even stop to think about the ridiculousness of the ‘kiss of life’, prevalent nowadays even in action movies? Fairy tales will forever be a part of who we are.

For Sjón, myths remind him of how small humans are. Poseidon, for example, could wipe us out with a tsunami whenever he wants. The less ‘happily-ever-after’ stories remind us of our mortality to protect and prolong life.

Whether thousands of years ago or in the twenty-first century, death is the ultimate enemy of humans and life is to be protected.

Sjón’s homeland of Iceland has many fascinating old tales of its own. Stories that particularly fascinate him are those where metamorphosis occurs: people turn into flowers, rivers or animals. What is stunning is humanity’s obsession with the idea, leading us to the modern age of genetic experiments.

4 Simple Steps to Go From Tale to Novel

With a fairy tale or two in mind, plus a little King Arthur to spice it up, how far do you go from the original story? Some believe sticking as close as possible to the most original form creates a true, pure story untainted by ulterior motives.

But while seeking the original tale for inspiration can give a lot of insight into the core of the story, there’s a lot more to be done.

1. Know your audience

Are you writing for young children, teenagers or adults? Are you writing a literary piece, or a genre one? Identifying your audience leads you to what parts of the old tale are relevant and interesting to them.

Do they want a modernised retelling, or a whole new story with aspects spliced in from old tale(s)? Would anything in the tale be unacceptable or confusing when read in a modern setting?

All right I am corny, you know? But I think there are just about 140 million people in this country who are just as corny as I am, you know? I’m not a politician, I do it because I like it.” – Walt Disney

Kelly Link tries to imagine a world where Disney didn’t create the cartoons that changed fairy tales and how we view them. Would the original, written form be less or more popular than it is now?

While Disney altered several fairy tales, it was done to appeal to the audience and convey the desired message. This is no different from what any more recent rehashing of fairy tales does, and no different from the task in front of any writer picking up some old tales for their craft.

2. Fill in the gaps

Old tales aren’t a complete novel in themselves; some are only a few pages long. Have a look at what is missing in the old story that modern fiction requires.

In Holly Black’s experiences, fairy tales and other old stories typically have plain, simple characters. Developing characters with backstory and motive naturally sparks off a whole new side of the story.

Another common gap in old tales is setting. Some have a vague indication, such as a castle or ‘deep in the woods’, but little indication of the surrounding culture. Building the setting can feed directly into and off your character’s motives.

For example, you might examine the political system in detail; what if wolves were the oppressed minority?

3. Do your research

Some old tales have different versions across cultures and time. Searching for these can give great ideas of story elements you can move around and still be ‘true’ to some form of the original.

It’s also intriguing to discover which myths traverse countries, and how fairy tales adopt different nuances as they travel the globe.

I did a lot of research, then chose the elements which were most vivid and which worked best in my voice. So I hope I’ve retold a story which you will recognise, but which will also surprise you.” – Lari Don

It’s also good to have a look at what is currently popular with fiction using old tales. In recent years, many retellings show the other side of a familiar story.

Another trend is to look into the history of the story itself: how it came about, who created it and who recorded it. Kate Forsyth’s latest novel The Wild Girl was inspired by the forbidden love of one the Grimm brothers. There’s no end to the inspiration held by these old tales!

4. Select which elements to focus on

Are you using a single story, or a collection of myths? This question is particularly relevant if you’re focusing on a mythological being, such as a vampire.

Is it the plot of one or a few tales that really captivates you, or is it the concept as a whole, built by several related but unconnected myths and legends? This will affect which elements you take from the old tales.

You’ll want to handle old tales differently depending on how familiar they are to your audience.

If you’re using a familiar one, it’s good to use more creative license and encourage your readers to see the old tale in a new, exciting way. If you’re using a relatively unfamiliar old tale, its unknown has great potential to add richness to your novel if you stay close enough to the original.

Using the Familiar

Generally speaking, familiar tales fall under Western mythology and old tales. Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, King Arthur, and Ancient Greek or Egyptian gods are just some of the stories you may play with in this way.

If you conduct a search for novels using familiar old tales, the first thing you’ll come across is modern retellings with a twist.

When people want simple nostalgia, they’ll likely read the original or sit down to a Disney movie. In picking up a novel, they’re looking for a little something more.

Even when you’re changing the old tale, its core woven through the story will resonate.

The fairy tale is a lie that expresses the deepest of human truths: those of the psyche through the imagination.” – Joslyn Robinson

While it’s good to put a new twist on a familiar tale, readers will notice every time you change something. To an extent, it’s good to keep up their expectations.

Holly Black recommends plot points from old tales as being the most rich and relevant to the original. Sticking to the original’s plot points – metaphorically or literally – will help keep the magic and hint of nostalgia.

Holly Black’s favourite old tale to use is the collection of myths surrounding fairies. While vampires and werewolves are also favourites of hers, they were once human and bring with them a personality that is just a little too familiar. There is also an endless list of fairies, from pixies to brownies and trolls.

Fairies are truly alien; they cry at weddings and laugh at funerals.” – Holly Black

Alternately, Kelly Link likes working with Greek gods and mythology because their characteristics are so human. The tales are full of family squabbles, misuse of power, jealousy, revenge – drama that’s much the same whether in the mortal or immortal world.

Using the Unfamiliar

Maybe a sense of the familiar isn’t what you want to go for. You may want to write a Snow White who lives with seven ghouls instead of dwarves, or something completely bizarre and unheard of. Typically this type of story comes from Eastern, Middle Eastern, African, South American and Slavic cultures.

Researching different versions of old tales from other cultures, or completely unheard of ones, can help inspire an element of the bizarre in your novel.

Another advantage of using these lesser-known old tales is that it’s less likely to be compared to other versions. You can change what you like and not get pulled up on it; you can do a straight retelling and still be seen as presenting a fresh story.

But when they read my retellings of the untrustworthy Korean tiger or the Witch of Lochlann or Inanna tricking the god of wisdom, they might never see that story anywhere else. My version will be the only version they know. And that’s a really heavy responsibility.” – Lari Don

You can use the whole story, or elements of it. But be careful that taking the old tale out of its original culture doesn’t create a story that can’t be understood. It’s important to research and understand the culture the story came from, but assume that your readers aren’t as familiar with that culture.

Kelly Link likes Japanese folklore, which she first came into contact with through Studio Ghibli films, directed by Hayao Miyazaki. My Neighbour Totoro (1988), Princess Monoko (1997), Spirited Away (2001) and Ponyo (2008) are just some of his films inspired by various aspects of Japanese culture and mythology, particularly their land gods and spirits or demons.

Sjón grew up with Icelandic mythology that, while familiar to him, is very unfamiliar to his Western audience. He shared a few bizarre Icelandic tales at the festival that are worth repeating.

Children are told tales of the Jólakötturinn – the Yule or Christmas Cat – that eats children who don’t receive a gift of clothing for Christmas. And there is the huldufólk – Hidden People or elves – whose existence has stopped several contraction plans to move or destroy the rocks they are believed to live in.

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Myths, legends, fairy tales and folklore are a rich part of our storytelling culture and heritage. Bringing them into your modern work of fiction connects you to the fundamental truths that have survived the ages.

Whether taking inspiration from a familiar or unfamiliar tale, you can add a spark of magic to your own work.

Happy writing!

Via: http://writersedit.com/how-to-use-myths-legends-and-fairy-tales-in-your-fiction/

13 Struggles Only Unpublished Fiction Writers Understand

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First things first. This isn’t an article for all y’all fiction writers who have actually been published. I’m sure you have your problems, but this post is not for you, you beautiful, successful monsters. This post is for the semi-clueless writers whose hearts are still full of hope, with their Word docs full of nonsense plot outlines and six different versions of the same abandoned manuscript. This is for anyone and everyone who is writing a book right now and has no idea what the hell they’re doing, because that’s where I’m at too. If you’re riding on this struggle-bus with me, you know all of these struggles way too well:

1. You never have time to write

Apparently you have to work to pay rent? And see people to maintain friendships? Also, laundry gets dirty, plates don’t wash themselves, and the fridge is not filled by fairies? What! Does not compute???

2. Just kidding — you do have time, and you waste it like nobody’s business

*scrolls into the Twitter abyss*

*calls mum for a catch up*

*finds the lost portal to Narnia*

Oh man, no time to write! Better luck tomorrow.

3. The conditions have to be ‘just so’ when you’re writing

When there’s no pressure, you can write upside down strapped to a rocket. When you’re writing The Novel That Will Make You As Famous As J.K. Rowling, So Help You God, then you need to have a candle burning, a half glass of red wine at your side, and a chimpanzee playing the violin before you’ll even think about opening your laptop.

4. You’re constantly daydreaming about your characters

I’ve apologised to at least ten different stationary objects that I’ve walked into this month alone.

5. You keep getting 40,000 words into something and then immediately want to burn it down

BURN IT ALL DOWN. (Or rename it “ZZZZZ” so it hits the bottom of your Docs folder and you never have to see its ugly mug again.)

6. Whenever someone asks you what kind of story you’re working on, you make this face…

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Which basically says “It’s just this little dumb stupid terrible awful horrible story I’m working on, sort of, kind of, maybe.”

7. And whenever someone asks to read what you’re working on, you make THIS face…

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Whilst thinking “OVER MY DEAD BODY. (Nobody has to read this for it to get published, right? Right??)”.

8. And yet, you’re genuinely concerned about casting the movie for this book you haven’t even finished

Is [insert favourite actor/actress here] available and will they remain available for the next 10-15 years while I’m getting my sh*t together?

9. Friends you didn’t even know were writing a book end up getting published before you do

Congrats, by the way. Can’t wait to read it and love it and eat an entire pack of Oreos consoling myself, you talented pain in the ass.

10. Every 3 weeks or so you are thoroughly convinced that your ideas suck, everything is crap and what the hell were you even thinking?!

Writers are totally emotionally stable, though!! Honestly, we’re fine!! Everything’s great!!!!!!!!! (Help.)

11. Writer’s block is some real sauce

You can stare at that blank page for hours, and end up typing every random word you can think of in the futile quest for inspiration. You start a sentence, and delete it. Get up and make a drink. Type another sentence. Delete it. At the end of the day you have a blank page and a headache from banging your head on the wall. And it’s not like you can talk to anybody about it, because then you’d have to actually admit that you were writing something in the first place.

12. Nobody but you actually cares

Like, you’re a nobody. You have no deadlines, no expectations, and no cheerleaders to provide that much needed praise and admiration for the stinking pile of dog-poop you’re writing. So you are forced to plod on, without reward. Most likely most days you feel dead inside. TELL ME I’M PRETTY, INTERNET.

13. You actually have no freaking idea what to do when you’re done with this giant thing you made

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Click your heels three times, blow some glitter on your manuscript and hope for the best! According to the internet, the “real work” in getting published hasn’t even begun yet.

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Via: https://www.bustle.com/articles/101031-13-struggles-only-unpublished-fiction-writers-understand

 

Literary Devices: Motifs, Symbols and Themes

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Have you ever been reading a story, only to be struck with déjà vu? Perhaps you noticed that roses had just been mentioned for the tenth time. Or daffodils. Or the colour purple. Perhaps you found yourself wondering, ‘Why on earth is this author so obsessed with pineapples?’ But what is it you are really noticing? What are these recurring symbols and images? It may seem like you’ve discovered a strange fetish of the writer, but what you have more likely stumbled upon are motifs.

Just like any other literary device, writers can use motifs to add depth, convey meaning, and/or shape the way a reader receives, responds to, or understands a text. However, before using any literary device, you should first make sure you are familiar with how it works. So, here are the things you may need to know about ‘motif’, before using it in stories of your own.

What is a ‘Motif’?

In literature, a motif can be defined as any recurring image, object, idea, or element within a particular work. However, this definition is not entirely complete. After all, a motif should never be meaningless. In fact, a motif should contribute some form of symbolic significance to the story. For instance, a motif may be used to establish mood and atmosphere, or to reinforce/further explore the overriding themes of a story.

Motif vs. Symbol

As motifs are often symbolic in nature, they can often be mistakenly identified as mere symbols. However, it is important to remember that these two literary devices are not one and the same. So what is the difference between the two? The key difference to note between motifs and symbols is the element of repetition. As we’ve already established, a motif is an item that reoccurs throughout a text. In contrast, a symbol may only appear once. Beyond this, a motif often contributes toward developing the themes of a text, whereas a symbol’s significance may be limited to the particular scene. In this way, a motif may be a symbol, but a symbol is not necessarily a motif.

Motif vs. Theme

Another element ‘motif’ can often be mistaken for is ‘theme’. This is no doubt due to the fact that motif and theme are so closely connected. While a theme can be defined as a key or central idea explored throughout a text, a motif is more a means of embellishing, examining, or reinforcing these central ideas. For instance, a text may examine themes of good versus evil through the repeated images, or ‘motifs’, of light and dark.

Examples of Motif from a Literary Master

The best way to understand any literary device is to study examples of them in action. To better understand ‘motif’ and its relationship with ‘symbol’ and ‘theme’, let’s turn to a literary master, Mr. Edgar Allan Poe. The Fall of the House of Usher is rich with examples of motif. For example, the idea of certain things passing from one state to another is constantly repeated throughout the story. The word “pass” or “passed”, for instance, can be found on no less than seven occasions. On top of this, the very name ‘Usher’ (as in Roderick Usher) is associated with someone who directs us from one place to another. In this way, we can see a motif emerging, relating to the idea of transition.

This motif is also contributing to an overlaying theme – a theme of crossing, or transcending boundaries (particularly those between life and death). Madeline Usher, for example, is portrayed as crossing the boundary between life and death, when she emerges, alive, from her tomb. This theme is further enforced by the motif of decay. From the description of the partially “crumbling” house, and the “decayed trees”, to the description of Roderick Usher, possessing a “cadaverousness of complexion”, the notion of death and decay is clearly repeated throughout. As the very process of decay is itself a transitional state – one from pristine to ruin, we can see how this motif works to symbolise and reinforce the overall theme of crossing the boundary between life and death.

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So now you know more about motif, symbols and themes, try identifying some of your own. The next time you read a novel, take note of the images and elements that reoccur. See how they are used, and what they symbolise. Then get writing, and practice using motifs of your own.

Via: http://writersedit.com/literary-devices-motif/

On Writing And Editing Sex Scenes In Fiction

Sex Scenes in Fiction

Sex scenes in fiction are a tricky subject. For a start – depending on your genre – should they be there? How much do you show? Should you write the whole scene or stop at the heavy petting? There are many, many questions. And one of the best articles I’ve read on the subject is by Helen Scheuerer, who gives some helpful tips and advice. Here it is, and I hope you find it useful:

Since getting stuck into the structural edit of my novel, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about sex scenes in fiction. When should they be included? What makes them work? What makes them fail spectacularly? What warrants a ‘Literary Review’s Bad Sex Award‘?

Originally, there was only one sex scene in my novel, but at the request of my publisher, I’ve since added two more in, and recently, I’ve had the somewhat surreal experience of critiquing these scenes with my editor.

Editing in general can often be an intimate discussion regarding the intentions and interpretations of characters versus those of the author, but when it comes to the more explicit scenes in fiction, the process involves even more lengthy debates.

My editor and I read articles on the subject, and researched the best sex scenes in literature (the library scene from Atonement topped most of those lists, in case you were wondering), and realised that in any context, sex is a tricky subject. Perhaps largely because it plays such a major role in people’s lives, and yet it remains arguably a mystery to us, often still taboo, and kept behind closed doors.

Within fiction it’s even more complex. I have friends who hate reading sex scenes in books as it makes them uncomfortable, and then I have friends who enjoy reading the more explicit scenes.

Personally, I’m often confused when there’s zero sex in a book, as it’s such a big part of life, it lays bare motivations, desires and consequences, all of which tell you a lot about a character. Sex can be ugly, uncomfortable and awkward just as much (if not more often) than the head tossing, back arching cliches we so often see in fiction.

It can mean the start (or the end) of something, and set into motion a series of events. It’s a fact of life, just like birth and death, violence and love – none of which we shy away from when we write, so why is it different? Why should sex be metaphorical and ultimately glossed over, when it’s acceptable to create a vivid description of someone being shot in the face?

My editor and I discussed all these issues, before we got down to the nitty gritty sentence-level of the scenes themselves. The scenes I included weren’t particularly explicit in terms of naming body parts and describing actions in detail, but there was definitely more description than the ‘kiss and fade out’ option some authors favour.

So, within the comments section of Microsoft word, my editor and I tried to work out what makes a sex scene ‘literary’, and what factors separate these scenes from erotica, or worse ‘smut’. The use of language in these scenes is definitely tricky; too anatomical and the moment’s ruined, too vague and no one knows what is going where or how the characters feel.

I also learnt as a writer, you also have to be wary of the fact that one person’s turn-on is another person’s deal breaker, which is probably why so many authors choose to keep it vague.

Additionally, I was aware of the fact that I was a female author writing a sex scene. I’ve spoken about the gender bias in the writing industry before, but realised it was incredibly present when it came to interpreting fictional sex scenes. Often, these scenes when written by women are seen as confessions, autobiographical even, which made me feel particularly uncomfortable.

What helped me move past this discomfort was the fact that I was writing from a man’s perspective. This helped me feel like I was keeping a relatively safe distance from the risks above, at least during the writing and editing process (perhaps another post will be due by the time these scenes are finalised in print).

Essentially, what I’ve come to understand is like most things in writing, there’s no ‘right’ answer, a writer just has to be aware of their own intentions, as well as that of their characters, and should work closely with an editor to make sure these two visions match up as best they can.

Lastly, I thought I’d list a few quick tips I’ve learned during this process below. Fingers crossed someone out there finds them useful…

Top 7 Tips For Writing Sex Scenes in Fiction

  1. Don’t include them just for the sake of it, like any scene, they should drive the story forward, or reveal something new about a character.
  2. Space out the explicit details with emotional responses, and revelations of character.
  3. Don’t say ‘member’, ever.
  4. Don’t make it perfect, nothing ever is.
  5. Accept that not every reader will find the same thing attractive.
  6. If you’re not comfortable writing them, don’t – that’s why there’s always a ‘fade out’ option.
  7. Accept that you’re going to have to be comfortable editing these scenes with someone in a professional capacity.

Via: https://writersedit.com/writing-editing-sex-scenes-fiction/

The Devil is in the Detail in Fiction Writing

So over the last couple of weeks, I have been straining my old eyes to complete a couple of final reads, looking for those small annoying faults, like misplaced commas, errant formatting, typos and silly repetition. Due to the good work done in the editing stage, there were not a lot of faults, so I was very pleased that the end of the process was near.

Until that is, a glaring error hit me in the face about halfway through what I thought was going to be my final read. This is the kind of problem that usually hits first draft fiction writing…

Via http://www.justpublishingadvice.com/the-devil-is-in-the-detail-in-fiction-writing