Autumn Prompts for Re-writing Fairy/Folk Tales

Spellbinder submissions for the Winter 2023 Issue (publ. Jan 2023) are open until November 14th. We have shared some prompts on our social media channels during the past week to boost your creativity and imagination while submissions are open. The prompts we posted during this submission window are under the theme of “Re-writing fairy/folk tales”, which we feel is very fitting for the mysterious but cosy autumnal months. The theme was inspired by the game Happily Never After which we played at Spellbinder’s Second Anniversary Virtual Party on October 8th. The game also became the second of the prompts as you will see below. Please read on if you are curious about some hints and tips on how to respond to the prompts we have shared on socials!

First prompt: “Try to write a short but punchy fairy/folk tale by starting and finishing it with the same sentence. What effects can you create with this technique? Does the same sentence get a whole different meaning?”

This prompt lends itself to writing a full-circle piece/story that readers may find really endearing, different, and something to think about long after reading. Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing before responding to this prompt:

  1. To develop this prompt, think of what makes a sentence acquire different meanings depending on the context. It may be better to start with a short sentence unless you have a long one already in mind. For example, you could use the very simple “A new day had just begun” at the beginning and end of a story. Its meaning could drastically change depending on the story’s events.
  2. A vague sentence is more likely to be adaptable compared to a detailed one, as its valence and interpretation could vary. For example, the following sentence: “The sky turned a delicate shade of pink” could indicate both a stunning sunset on the horizon or the fact that it’s about to start raining blood. 
  3. The fact that the same sentence is repeated at the beginning and at the end doesn’t mean that the same context/situation is repeated. Hence, why not have this first and last sentence be a question for the reader? For example, “What does the reader think will happen next?” is a captivating way to attract attention at the very beginning of your story, as well as leave the reader with a taste for more at the very end. 
  4. Lastly, you could lean into absurdity and surrealism with a totally surprising sentence. This would be a very good way to catch the attention of the reader at the beginning of your story. For example, “The sound coming from the next room was at the same time chilling and harmonious” is quite an impossible oxymoron. This may pique the reader’s interest and invite them to continue reading, and comically surprise them when re-reading it at the end.

Second prompt: This prompt is inspired by the game Happily Never After. Choose your favourite fairy tale and, in one sentence, flip it on its head. You can rewrite the opening line, write a line from the villain’s perspective, or write what happens after the “happy ever after.” To get inspired, see how Margaret Atwood begins Little Red Riding Hood: “It was dark inside the wolf.” You can then begin a poem or a story with your creative sentence.”

While straightforward in its instructions, this prompt/game could be taken in various directions. Hence, why not list some exercises you could do alongside this game to get the most out of it? After picking a fairy/folk tale you like…

  1. Think about your experience of the fairy/folk tale itself. Did someone else read it to you when you were little? Do you have any specific memories of it? Do you remember what you felt when hearing it for the first time? Maybe flipping a tale means that you tell your perspective of it, fictionalising it and emphasising how it was potentially a really different experience than what the writer expected it to be? You could use all of these thoughts to develop your own story inspired by the fairy/folk tale, making sure that the first sentence is effective in making it clear which fairy/folk tale you are flipping.
  2. Choose 5 or more words from the fairy/folk tale, and you can make it easy by choosing generic words or more difficult by choosing unique ones. With these words, try writing a poem that either re-tells the tale with a different villain and/or ending. Alternatively, re-write the tale in poem form with the chosen words by literally flipping it, as in the ending is the beginning and the beginning is the end. Otherwise, you could write a poem that contains the words you have chosen but changes the fairy/folk tale genre, making it a horror story or a romance. In any case, make sure that the first line of the poem you write is effective in making it clear which fairy/folk tale you are flipping.
  3. You could merge prose and poetry by using quotes from the fairy/folk tale in-between short poems that serve to flip the tale itself. Hence, the quotes from the tale would likely take on a whole new meaning themselves. As usual, the first line / the first quote should make it clear which fairy/folk tale you are flipping.

Third prompt: “What would happen if characters from different fairy tales met? What would their first interaction be like? Would they immediately understand each other or would they clash, as if belonging to different worlds? Write a scene for a stage or screenplay following this prompt.”

This last prompt is aimed towards scriptwriters, and there are a few ways you could create a scene/monologue based on it. Here are some thinking exercises to make your response to this prompt as effective as possible:

  1. First, choose which fairy/folk tale character is your protagonist in the context of the meeting. This will help you choose where the scene is set, as it likely needs to be set in the world/story of the character you have chosen to be your protagonist. What about this world will become the setting of your play? The setting will be useful to subconsciously convey what the nature of the meeting will be or to shock the reader if you intend the meeting to take an unexpected turn.
  2. Once you have decided on the setting, you’ll have to think whether you wish for the scene to be a dialogue between the two characters versus a monologue of the protagonist character, after the fact. While a dialogue scene may convey more of the action and intensity of the moment, the introspection of a monologue may help you delve more into the psychology of the protagonist and of the meeting itself. 
  3. Last, before you start writing the scene, think about why you want these two characters to meet. What are they both getting out of the meeting? Why is it important that they meet? Was the meeting arranged? And if so, do both characters have good intentions in planning this meeting or is there something more behind it all? Having the answers to these questions clear in your mind may help you in attributing purpose to the scene making it more effective and captivating.

Hopefully, these tips, examples, and exercises have provided some inspiration for you to go ahead and re-write fairy/folk tales you like. As always, let us know how to get on!

Psst… our submissions are still open until November 14th, so why not submit your re-written fairy/folk tales? We would love to read anything you produce based on the above prompts, so please don’t hesitate to check out Spellbinder’s submission guidelines and submit your works through our submission form. 

Linda Arrighi, Nonfiction Editor
Featured Image by David Gonzales on Pexels

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