- They have unlikely heroes/heroines (nearly all come from a humble background too).
- Magic is used positively and negatively (and indeed sometimes the clash of the story is when the practitioners of magic are trying to outdo each other).
- Any cursed object will turn up at an inconvenient point to wreak havoc on the story.
- Justice will be done (often quite grimly, no wonder kids love fairytales!).
- Evil will never win. It is a question of finding out just how the goodies win.
- Characters are clearly defined. You know who to cheer on and, conversely, who to boo for!
- Magic will be used when other options are not available. For some reason Cinderella's fairy godmother did not feel it necessary to intervene sooner than she did.
- All magical food and drink is to treated with extreme caution. At best they end up affecting your height. At worse they're poisoned.
- Animals talk (what they say often makes more sense than what humanoids come out with!). Animals can also be the heroes/heroines at time. See Puss in Boots. I like the idea of animals being shown to be smarter than humans at times.
- The hero/heroine will always need specic guidance en route to the final destination. That guiance or help can come in difering forms though.
Fairytales are great stories and have other advantages to a writer. Fairytales can:-
So as a writing template, I think fairytales can be used to good effect by writers whatever their genre.
Fairytales are amongst the stories that linger in the memory too. (Something that all writers need to aim for? Is our writing good enough that it will linger like that?).
I’ve learned to cut more as I’ve written more. You get a better feel for what is relevant and what isn’t. I enjoy the editing process, especially as you sense your story becoming tighter, better and the waffle comes out (and there’s always some!).
It is important to let yourself write and then let yourself edit and treat the two as two separate tasks. You don’t want your editing side to get in the way of your creative side. And the things you cut might work their way into future stories if good enough. Stick to the point of your story, always.
When I'm ready to do so, I edit, and edit, and edit. First edit is to get rid of repetition, including all unnecessary adjectives. Second edit is to look at the plot as a whole. Does it work? Is anything missing? By the time I get to a third read through and edit, I can usually spot where I can tighten the novel and/or short story up further. At that point I think about sending it off somewhere!
Do spend time reading your work through on paper. I’ve lost count of the number of things I spotted on paper I totally missed on screen. There must be a psychological reason behind that but it won’t impress an editor! I always use the reverse side of anything I’ve worked on as scrap paper.
Ensure toner/ink cartridges are up to scratch. If you’re wondering whether you need to change them before sending anything out, the answer is yes, you do! Editors/agents are looking for reasons to turn you down so don’t give them any!
Get your story down on paper first before you even think about editing. Some authors do edit as they go but the disadvantage to that is it can take a lot longer (will you ever find the perfect sentence?) but if you get your story down, you know you have something to work with.
Do put your story or novel aside for a while after writing. It’s normal to think you’ve written total rubbish just after finishing your tale! Give it some time and you can read it with a “clear” mind and sort out what really is rubbish and what isn’t. I can never judge my work objectively directly after writing it. That applies to this too!
Fairies are the top beings in the realm, mainly because it is run by a Fairy Queen.
The godmother class is the highest kind of fairy and it is from them recruits for the angels are usually found when godmothers reach the end of their time in the Fairy Kingdom. Fairies like Hanastrew are not yet godmothers but are clearly going to get there.
Those like the fairy squad will be the working fairies, some of whom will gain promotion, some of whom will stay put. Not every fairy wants to be a godmother - a great deal more responsibility comes with it. Fresdian (Rose)managed to disguise her true godmother class to avoid those responsibilities.
All fairies practice their skills regularly. Most fight like demons too when called on to do so by the Kingdom.
Fairies are the top species in the realm, mainly due to their powers and the way the royals tamed the Kingdom and stopped the infighting, though it took them centuries to do it. Most of the Kingdom doesn’t have a problem with this though every so often a disgruntled wizard or witch rebels and shakes the Kingdom throne up somewhat.
The fairies act honourably and don’t throw their weight around though there is always the odd exception. Hanastrew and the squad generally go down well with the populace given they’re the first line of magical defence.
Fairies tend to despise humanity’s view of them - they are not twee, yes they like flowers but don’t necessarily live in them and the ones that do are considered suspect by their own kind. Fairies are tough, good fighters and love nothing better then righting injustices. They very much see themselves as the good guys of the magical world.
My latest Chandler's Ford Today is called 50 Things I Like about the Chandler's Ford area Part 1 (part 2 to follow next week) and ties in with my 50th birthday earlier this week! Two things to celebrate are our wonderful local library and the wide range of wildlife in the area (especially bird life).
So this led me to think about what there is like about fictional worlds. It occurred to me listing some of these when outlining a novel/short story could be useful as you plan your tale. Also when writing novels as you discover more of the world as you write your story, you could add those discoveries to your list (giving you an instant crib sheet, useful if you're writing a series).
Such a list could help you evaluate whether you've depicted your world well enough (or are going to do so). You could also do this in reverse and list what you loathe. You could also list restrictions and work out how characters manage/overcome these.
Characters who focus on being the best will always stir up trouble in your stories because (a) there will inevitably be other character(s) who are rivals and (b) how do they themselves react when they fail, when others do better than they do (even if not deliberately being rivals).
They're hardly going to take this quietly. They'll do whatever it takes so that they are the best (and that can range from murdering the rival to taking artificial stimulants to overcome any physical difficulties to heroically overcoming their problems in a more honourable way). If that doesn't cause drama in your stories, there's something wrong!
My rebellious fairy godmother character, Eileen, focuses on being the best she can be by putting in the hours and hours of practice with magic and researching the latest spells so she is always one step ahead of those who want to kill her. She also likes to have good quality magical equipment (because she knows full well her enemies will do so and if they get half a chance use this against her). Hanastrew does the same (though she upsets less people than her old mentor did).
Even if Eileen didn't have to worry about survival, she is the kind of character who would always want to be the best at her profession. It is also a matter of pride for her. So what drives your characters into wanting to be the best? Who does gets in their way and is this deliberate? How do they overcome the problems?
In my fictional Fairy Kingdom, there are certain freedoms. There is freedom of education (this is how you can tell I write fantasy incidentally, it would never happen here!) but certain books, mainly Eileen's revisionist histories, are restricted. Officially they're not but people have to go to the Palace Library and give their personal details before being allowed to read these books so practically everyone thinks twice about doing that. (Eileen understands that attitude and is livid with the Queen and her Council for doing this. Eileen rightly believes it is because they don't like the criticism of the behaviour of certain fairy royal ancestors).
There is reasonable freedom of speech (many say Roherum still broadcasting on the Fairy News Network is proof of this) but there are official lines to take (which FNN inevitably does take. They do know which side their bread is buttered. Freedom for them has its limits).
So what freedoms does your fictional world have? If there are restrictions how severe are they? How are they policed? Are there resistance movements (especially if your world is more despotic than benevolent)? Were there restrictions initially or were they brought in due to certain events (and if so what were these?).
Freedom is not all that it appears at times. How does your world(s) reflect that?
Motivation is one of the most important parts of character building. There are the classic motivations of course - love, hatred, greed, power lust - but there are others. I wouldn't rule out using what many might consider a minor motivation as long as it is of overwhelming importance to your character (and with good reason, at least from their viewpoint).
So what does make your characters tick? How has their character been shaped? By upbringing alone or what they learn (and also what they learn from direct experience). What happens to those characters who cannot seem to learn from their mistakes?
How do some characters influence others (for good or evil)? Can your characters "break their programming"? There are also good stories to be read and written about characters whose motivations change during the course of those tales. (A Christmas Carol , one of my favourite works by Dickens, is a classic example of this. Another is Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.).
And then there are stories where the motivation makes sense to the character but not to anyone else in that story. Countless horror stories (and crime tales) have come and can continue to come from this starting point.
It can be helpful to list motivations and test whether they really are strong enough in your character. My Eileen is motivated by an overwhelming urge to ensure justice and fair place. Her blunt honesty is a result of this and of course lands her right in it but it is all true to her character. So I would list here "justice", "what does her love of justice lead to?" (confrontation with the authorities for one thing!) and so on.
Stories in all formats make the most sense to me and are the most enjoyable when I can see what the character motivations are. I may not agree with them (especially in the case of villains) but I can see where that character is coming from - and then I am generally hooked on the story to see how it pans out, which is precisely what the writer wants to achieve.
The Chief Witch
Revenge. In her earlier years, she relished her friendship with Eileen but Queen Gwendolyn’s admittedly bad treatment of the Witch and her abandoned father, fuelling the Witch’s resentment and hatred of fairy royals, overcome that affection. The Witch really wanted to hit back at those who caused her hurt. Sadly, she took the view that if the innocent got in the way, too bad.
Brankaresh (Chief Wizard)
Power (especially magical gifts), riches and all that come with these things. Ideally a totally subservient Fairy Queen so his other fantasies get fulfilled as well! He has very little chance of achieving the latter unless he can use significant force, as he knows, and for that he needs more magical powers. The best source for that is of course the Queen! So he plays the game, pretending to be her devoted servant when he would far rather she was his devoted servant.
L’Evallier (Chief Elf)
Stability in government. Like the Queen, a stable government and an end to external threats to it. Unlike the Queen, he longs for truly honourable behaviour from his monarch (she of course believes she already does this). He particularly wishes the Queen would not try to force Eileen and Jennifer into the Fairy Kingdom and frets about the consequences given neither lady is likely to take this well. Indeed when Jennifer is abducted, she does not! On a minor note, he hates contractions and would love to see them abolished.
My latest post on Chandler's Ford Today is called Writing as Therapy: Introducing Chocolate Muffin Publishing. This post discusses creative writing as therapy and shares news about a company that enables people with learning difficulties, dementia and so on to write their own stories, produce them as books and even have their own book signing events.
This led me to think about how the arts could be portrayed in fiction. For example in the Fairy Kingdom setting of my Brenebourne novels, the Fairy Queen has adopted photography (the magical realm is not above pinching good ideas they like the look of from Earth or any other planet!), as well as enjoying portrait/landscape paintings in their own right.
So what would your fictional world enjoy as an art form? Is is accessible to everyone or only the privileged few? Are there libraries (in my magical world every town has one and not a hint of cutbacks in sight! Now any UK reader of this will know I definitely do write fantasy!)? Are there art galleries?
What is considered "normal" art in your fictional world? Are there rebels against traditional forms? The fairytales are phenomenally important in my magical world and it is felt they have to be acted out regularly to keep them alive so there is a whole cultural aspect to my fictional setting in that alone. So what is the cultural aspect on your fictional world? (If it doesn't have one at all, is there a reason for that?).
How is writing (a) carried out in your fictional, magical world and (b) considered as an art form?
Are writing tools/forms basic (quill, biro, important documents are still sealed with wax, or worse, blood etc) or equivalent to computers and so on? Can anyone write? What is the literacy rate of your fictional populations? If it is low, is anyone trying to improve it and what motivates them to do so? Do they have the backing of your world's government(s)?
Is writing encouraged or not? Is the focus on stories or on non-fiction? What happens to any writer daring to break your fictional world's rules?
Writing in the magical world should not be limited to just spell books I think. There should be some sort of history of your world, residents ought to be aware of at least some basic geography of the planet they live on and a working knowledge of the habits of dragons etc can help promote better life expectancy!
So who writes these books? What repercussions do their books have on those who read them (for good or bad)?
In my Fairy Kingdom the classic fairytales are considered to be classical culture. What would count as that in your fiction?
What all characters want, if they could express their wishes, is to be put in a good story and to be well fleshed out. They would want to be understood by their creator and so written about with more depth. For example some of my characters really want the following:-
By working out what your characters really want if they could have carte blanche, you will write about and for them with more conviction and that will show up in your writing.
Well, to be fair, there is more than one point to fairytales. My list would be:-
There is a wide range of wildlife in the magical realm ranging from the classic mythical beasts like the dragons and unicorns to wildfowl similar to that found on earth. The main differences in the latter are that the Kingdom’s varieties tend to be much brighter coloured and they can fight back against almost any predator.
Everything is affected by magic in the air in the realm so if some creature wants to eat the Kingdom equivalent of a mallard, it knows it has to be strong enough magically to take it or risk being blown to bits the moment the unfortunate prey enters the digestive tract.
Fresdian, later Rose, is the Kingdom’s expert on all things flora and fauna and has written several books adding to the realm’s general knowledge (though it doesn’t stop her being written off as an eccentric, which suits her quite well).
The Kingdom’s wide range of terrains from mountains to deserts to swamps host a huge range of creatures, most of whom you don’t want to come across on a dark night, on any night come to that.
Plant life varies greatly in the Kingdom too from huge trees to gorse like shrubs to flowers in every imaginable colour. There is no such thing as weeds (so in that respect Eileen's Derek would consider t he realm paradise) and every village and town takes great pride in ensuring their flowers are not only in bloom, they’re at least twice the size of their nearest neighbours.
The witch community is renowned for their herbal knowledge. The good witches use their knowledge to help others. The bad ones use their knowledge to brew poisons. Dwarves are wary of apples (and old women selling them even more so!) but fruit is grown in most areas similar to that found on earth. They also have their own fruits, which tend to be luminous in colour, heavily scented, and very juicy. The reason these haven’t been named is there’s disagreement as to what they should be called given magical fruits have the nasty habit of changing shape depending on how good or bad weather conditions were.
Pets aren’t known in the Kingdom though the less temperamental magical creatures sometimes gather at the edges of settlements (depends on the habitat they prefer) and there is some interaction between them and villagers. This does not of course apply to dragons!
Humanity’s tendency to keep pets is generally approved of as long as the animals are properly cared for, on the grounds that caring for something else like this means there are some humans who aren’t polluting the planet or causing wars.
The Queen, if she were to keep a pet, would go for a cat - regal, dignified, looks after itself. Eileen would prefer a nice dog (her enemies would say it’s because she’s a bitch!) as she admires their loyalty and courage.
Eileen, prior to her defection to Earth, started the fairy squad to help her police the Fairy Kingdom. She taught them defensive and attacking spells and her talks to the squad were full of advice on what to look out for when on patrol around important buildings like the Palace. Some of Eileen's tips are:-
Fairytales are often one of the earliest forms of stories told to/read by children (they certainly were for me!) and remain as popular as ever. (No wonder Disney like to film them. They do know their audience but given how grim fairytales can be, you can see why Disney produce their own versions based on the original stories. There was no way they could've filmed The Little Mermaid as Hans Christen Andersen originally wrote it to name just one example).
I still have The Readers' Digest Complete Book of Fairy Tales (volumes 1 and 2) which my parents bought for me decades ago. The books' spines have been bound up with tape and I couldn't tell you how often I'd read these books. The stories are the original versions of the classic fairytales and the pictures are wonderful. It was the pictures that drew me into the books before the text worked its magic on me and I became glued to the stories themselves.
The stories have a strong moral tone (kids are often more passionate about justice and fairness than many adults are), have clear good guys and villains (which I remember loving as a kid. It's nice to know who to cheer for and who to boo!). Some of the stories are warnings against greed (Roald Dahl was brilliant at this too). Others are warnings against dangers (for example, Little Red Riding Hood is a good warning not to be taken in by appearances).
Some stories don't have the classic fairytale ending (The Little Mermaid and The Little Match Girl both end sadly) yet there are still plenty of happy ever afters too. So what is there not to like about fairytales? Nothing!
Can you see your characters acting out what they’re going through? Do your characters learn from what they go through? Do you have a nice range of characters? In any society, you get all ages, all backgrounds.
Give them emotional depth - and remember experiences can make folk bitter as well as courageous. Jenny, for example, is at loggerheads with her mother and is likely to remain that way for some time until Eileen shows some contrition or Jenny decides to let her grudge go at Eileen for dropping her right in it.
Character versus plot? Plot versus character? It’s like trying to decide whether you need oxygen or not. You need both. Both need to be well thought out. Eileen’s awkwardness helps drive her plot as she makes life damned difficult for herself but she also needs a story to set up those difficulties for her to try and resolve.
Look at motives. Not only can story ideas come from these, they can add emotional depth. Eileen’s chief motive is to stay on earth with her family and never to resume her old life. It colours her attitude, fuels her behaviour and sets up clashes with the Fairy Queen. Are the motives for your characters strong enough? Overwhelm your characters with problems - you get your story from how they cope.
I recently went to see the National Theatre Live production of As You Like It and loved it. The setting was modern but the language was the timeless words of Shakespeare. But the story itself, full of sub-plots, had a wonderful pace to it and is a great example of a feel good tale. It really does have a fairytale ending in the nicest sense (maybe that was why I loved it!).
I'm a great believer in having a wide range of stories in terms of mood and genre. I don't want to read or write bleak and bitter (though I recognise there is a place for it) yet equally a literary diet made up only of lighter, frothy work is not ideal either. And given the Bard of Avon clearly must have felt similarly given his wide range of comedies, tragedies and histories, I guess I am in very good company for wanting to read and write widely in terms of genre and mood.
I love inventing background detail to my stories (short tales and novels especially), some of which makes it into the works, some does not. The latter helps me know my worlds better. The former I hope adds depth to my stories. Some background detail for Fairy Kingdom villages include:-
Villages group together (in groups of five) annually for their summer carnival where all species take part. These are arranged throughout the season so the Queen and/or Eileen can attend them. A lot of drinking takes place and that’s just by the organizing committees!
There are floats, on the theme of fairy tales and nursery rhymes, but you can get the Kingdom’s equivalent of an “avant garde” float based on the theme of how horrible humanity is, which always goes well. There’s nothing like condemning an alien life form to bring magical beings together in a spirit of unity.
Fairy tales and nursery rhymes must be re-enacted regularly in the magical world to keep the stories “alive”. Once the carnivals are over for the year, there’s a lot of competitiveness to see which group of villages got the best coverage on FNN and which royal seemed to enjoy which festival most. The debates from this keep FNN and the press going for material for months. This material ranges from nice to poisonous. The disappointment of those who didn’t get on the organizing committees or felt their carnival didn’t get enough attention can be physically felt by all magical beings for over twenty miles!
The Queen and Eileen (pre-defection) enjoy going to the carnivals and enter into the spirit of the things readily. The Council don’t approve, it’s a bit common, an attitude that gains them short shrift from both royals.
All magical beings have their favourite spells (the ones they're best at!). A poll commissioned by the Fairy News Network amongst fairy godmothers found their favourite spells were:-
Dress codes in the Fairy Kingdom very much depend on what species you are. The sprites don't have any, much preferring to spend their time fighting each other and/or causing mischief to other magical species.
Practically everyone else does have a dress code. The Council, for example, all put on their formal dress robes when in formal session (this is usually to bring Eileen to account for her latest act of defiance), though they don't wear them for normal meetings. Naturally Brankaresh as Chief Wizard (and in his view Chief of everybody not royal) has the finest dress robes of all. Not that it impresses his nemesis, Eileen.
L'Evallier will don fresh formal wear for his audiences with Roxannadrell. Having said that L'Evallier never wears casual. Even his night attire has a formal look about it. He believes he owes it to his class and his species to always be "properly dressed". The downside of this is L'Evallier has no need for a "gentleman's personal gentleman" so would have no need to employ someone like Wodehouse's wonderful Jeeves. Very much L'Evallier's loss I think.
Roxannadrell herself considers her working uniform to be a sweeping gown with tiara and suitable accompanying jewellery (suitable depends on what event she is attending).
Eileen only wears formal gowns if dining with the Queen and wanting to either impress her cousin or mollify her a little by making more of an effort. Eileen is much more at home in casual but smart separates, especially when flying, and she has no time whatsoever for the traditional fairy costumes often depicted in our fairy tales. She rightly thinks these are not practical and would offer no protection against cross winds when in flight. Anyone flying on a regular basis would want to consider that.
Hanastrew wears smart casual while working but likes to put something a little smarter on when she finishes for the day. It acts like a signal to her brain she can switch off now.
I'm Allison Symes and I write novels, short stories as well as some scripts and poems. I love setting my work in my magical world, the Fairy Kingdom, and my favourite character is Eileen, who believes hypocrisy is something that happens to other people without caring that statement is hypocritical in itself! Eileen is huge fun to write for and about.