- Humility. Nobody likes a show-off at the best of times. In a fairytale setting, anyone showing off will either be humilated or die horribly if they don't see the error of their ways.
- A willingness to work hard. Cinderella would not have had the sympathy if she had been a lazy mare.
- A willingness to help the less fortunate. Anyone in a fairy tale who comes across an old man/woman needing help would do well to give them that assistance. Said old people usually turn out to be powerful magical beings in disguise and they will help those that help them. This really is a test of character and it always pays to pass this.
- Not assuming anything about anyone. It is often the youngest or the downtrodden who overcome and achieve success. Often those characters are also without title or rank. Equally you can get princesses who act like spoilt brats but their stories are inevitably a lesson in how they learned some humilty (for example The Princess and the Golden Ball is a classic example of this).
- Being against greed and poverty and other horrors. There is a strong social message with many fairytales - The Emperor's New Clothes (anti-vanity), The Happy Prince (anti-poverty), Snow White (anti-cruelty). Justice will prevail in the fairytale world. Sometimes it is rough justice but it is justice!
What every fairytale likes to see in its heros/heroines:-
I visited a local Medieval Weekend today and had a lovely time exploring the different exhibits and chatting with those reconstructing the lives of an archer, a scribe, and a herbalist amongst others. It was a fascinating glimpse into the past and made me grateful to be born in the time that I was, for all the world's current problems. I think it fair to say that medieval times were not plain sailing and life expectancy was not great.
So the visit led me to wonder about how you could portray history in your stories? What has made your world/governments/species be what they are? What has changed them (and there will inevitably some changes. A historical event can change everything. In England the year 1066 is significant here - everything changed!).
Does your world have historical re-enactments or does it cover up where it came from (especially if its development in science etc has been significant)? Is there a tourist industry which capitalizes on the past to generate income? How has history affected your characters in terms of their own personal histories and the life of their world/country? What are the historical stories they would be expected to know and what attitudes are they meant to show here? Do they agree with the official version of events?
Is history actively remembered and celebrated or are there attempts to keep it quiet and forget it? What could a character/your fictional world seek to suppress here?
One of my favourite forms of writing exercise/brainstorming for ideas activity is Ernest Hemingway's six word story idea. His most famous comment for this was "For Sale: One pair baby shoes". My suggestion to start off with would be "He refused to kill a dragon".
So what is the point of writing exercises? They help you discover you can produce fiction, and quickly. One great thing is nobody expects what you produce in class to be perfect, the whole idea is just to create and get that down on paper.
And you can use the six word story idea to trigger ideas for longer short stories, novels etc.
Some six word story ideas based on a fairytale world could include:-
Hopefully those will generate some story ideas.
Words are a writer's stock in trade of course but the way words are said can make such an impact. Loud people will always make themselves heard, quieter ones have to work harder at gaining an audience for what they need to say.
Can you tell your characters apart by the way in which they speak? It is vital they don't sound all the same (it'll confuse you and your readers). Educational standards should be evident through the messages your characters are giving out.
And which of your characters know to exploit their talent with words to con another character out of their rightful inheritance and so on? So just how are words used in your fictional world? And what are the consequences?
Following on from yesterday, the one sense I didn't mention was good, old fashioned and usually overlooked common sense! So how many of your characters have common sense the way we would recognize it? How does it help them and what damage is done by the others who don't have this?
Can you show your character's common sense overcoming difficulties on other areas of life (say employment)? Can you show characters trying to develop common sense? I would think there could be some comedy gold there.
Can a character be paralyzed by his common sense telling him\her\it not to intervene in a situation yet every other instinct they have is screaming at them to do otherwise? And which proves to be right? Do any of your characters come from a background where common sense is not usual, they've seen the limitations and damage this can do so rebel against it and are now renowned for developing the quality? How do others they've left behind as they progress feel about that? (I could see resentment being a real possibility).
The use of the senses in fiction has been my theme for today. On Allison Symes - This World and Others I discuss the use of the standard senses in fiction. My feeling is touch is probably the most difficult to put into words accurately yet without being mechanical or going over the top.
But in a magical world, there will be at least one more sense than mere humans enjoy. There should be at least one extra sense - a magical sense. Your characters should be able to detect when magic has been used/is around in the atmosphere. I don't see how they could survive in a magical environment without that ability.
I wouldn't be surprised if your characters have several extra senses, some of these being in common with all who live in/on/under/above their world. Other senses of course could have been developed by the more "superior" magical species. And a villain could use either their extra sensory abilities to try to tip the balance of success in their favour and/or undermine enemies by reducing/attacking their senses so they are not as alert/magically powerful as they would normally be.
So how many senses do your characters have and how do they make good use of them? Did senses develop as the world of your characters evolved? And how does the use of senses, magical or otherwise, get your characters into trouble or get them right out of said trouble?
Fairytales are fairly black and white in terms of what they think right attitudes should be. No despising of the ugly, you never know what they are really like underneath (The Ugly Duckling and Beauty and the Beast) to name one example. So what life lessons can be taken from fairytales in particular?
I refer to what I write as being fairytales with bite because there is a sharp edge to them, as there is with all classic stories in this genre. I mention on tonight's post on my Allison Symes - This World and Others website that fairytales have an almost revolutionary element to them given they can challenge what is seen to be normal. See the Shrek series and The Little Duckling for more on this.
In terms of what is normal in society, see The Little Match Girl and The Happy Prince for what attitudes fairytales can condemn. Fairytales are not backwards in condemning greed and encouraging compassion to the poor (on the grounds that ill fortune can happen to any of us and can bring poverty to any one). Dickens does this too of course.
So what bite is present in your stories? Is it humorous, political or both? One of the reasons I love reading and writing fairytales is they are not "heavy" with their message. They obey the old writing adage of showing, not telling, you the story and you pick up the message for yourself.
So especially if you are writing a "message" via your stories, how are you doing this? Is it subtle? I think the important thing is to avoid preaching as that switches people off but if you can write a story where people are rooting for your characters, for justice to win eventually and so on, then those tales are potential successes. Certainly I'd love reading them. I want the "bite" to make me think and to make me remember great characters and stories.
Just how busy are your characters? Whether they're the leads or supporting cast, so to speak, each must have a role that is so crucial to your story, if you were to cut them out, the tale would suffer.
So are your characters doing/achieving what they are meant to do? Even where the character is meant to be a failure, is that being portrayed accurately? Is that failure crucial to their development and/or the plot?
It is vital that characters aren't just busy for the sake of being busy. Their "work", their contribution to the story must all be valid in its own right to justify its inclusion. One of my final edits, particularly on a novel, before I even think about submitting the work somewhere is to go through each character and cross examine why they are in the story at all. I ask myself could I do without them and if the answer to that is yes, then I cut them out.
My problem with novel writing is I overwrite. Now that's okay in that I find it easy to cut rather than pad (I think the need to pad material out is a more serious problem. It indicates the story isn't strong enough. No story should need padding). The moment I take out characters I could do without tends to remove that over writing and often gets the word count down to a more acceptable level so I end up curing more than one issue here.
And even in a fairytale, no amount of magic should ever save a character that's not pulling their weight!
The Poetic Life: Sharing the Muse is part 2 of my interview with successful local poet, Sandra Gordon. In the interview are hints and tips which should help all writers and the importance of editing and reading are just two of the topics discussed.
One thing I have loved about all my Chandler's Ford Today interviews has been the way my interviewees have shared openly and given a glimpse into their writing life. I have always loved this kind of thing as no two writers work in exactly the same way and I find this a fascinating topic. It also means I inevitably learn a thing or two that will help me in my own writing!
All writers have different inspirations. One, of course, is the inspiration to read widely (in my case encouraged by my late mother and this is something I will always appreciate her for as it is a huge gift to bestow on someone. All that entertainment, all those adventure, fantasy, crime stories etc to read and enjoy but which I would have missed out on had I not been given the love of reading in the first place).
Another inspiration is a writer's own favourite authors, which often kickstarts the desire to write. (Not to better said authors but to genuinely see what you can accomplish and I've discovered a wish to give something back to the story "pool" in a kind of thanks for all the stories I've loved). And the odd line, a news story, a scrap of overheard conversation are all well known inspirations for new short stories, poems, plays and novels.
So who are your characters (writers or not) inspired by? My fairy godmother, Hanastrew, is inspired and encouraged by Eileen. Is the inspiration a good thing or not? Does that inspiration encourage your character on to greater things than would otherwise have happend without that spark? Can the inspiration become unhealthy (Stephen King's Misery is the classic tale on this)?
What leads your characters to keep going no matter what the difficulties you throw at them? What inspiration helps them here?
And who are you, as writer, inspired by and why? What makes you keep going when all that seems to come in are rejections? I've found it helpful to remind myself I am "in" writing for the long haul and that rejections are part and parcel of a writer's development. So what helps you here?
One of the things I think is most appealing about fairytales is the traditional happy ever after ending. Maybe as children, when most of us usually first come across fairytales, there is a security in this we find appealing. Maybe deep down as children we know happy ever afters don't always happen in life so we'll have them in our stories instead.
But one of the things I loved about Alternative Renditions, the Bridge House Publishing anthology, where my story A Helping Hand was published, was the way it took conventional fairy stories and turned them on their head. The contributors including me were invited to look at the tales from the viewpoints of the characters that were not the stars.
In my case the viewpoint was from the youngest of Cinderella's stepsisters. It was refreshing to write from that viewpoint and maybe it would be a good exercise to write familiar stories from viewpoints that don't usually see the light of day.
So in your fiction, are you writing from the right viewpoint for the story? Even if you are, can working out what other characters would feel about the same event(s) be used by you to add greater depth to their portrayal? No two characters would feel exactly the same way about the same events. This could lead to some very interesting stories and portrayals.
There shouldn't really be snobbery in the fairytale world, unless it is the inverted kind given it is always the downtrodden and the ill treated that get the happy ever after ending as a rule. But one of the things I love about fairytales is they are adaptable and I see no reason why a world with different magical species shouldn't develop its own hierarchy. Where you get hierarchies you get snobbery!
One of the things I love about the Shrek series is the way fairytale creatures and their roles are inverted. Where else is the ogre the hero?! It is perfectly possible for an upside down value system to show snobbery the other way round. The rich prince is looked down on, they're all presumed to be chinless wonders, the ugly and unfortunate can be the only category the heroes come from.
I think it more interesting to mix things up here. I like characters that defy expectation. Shrek is a great example of that. But how about the rich boy who isn't a snob? How about the poor girl who is? What stories could come from that?
After a very hectic evening, I'm finally able to get on and write my blog posts. It is a relief to be writing (and therapeutic). What would your characters find therapeutic and why? What are the stress causers for them and the stress breakers? Are there ways to avoid/limit the stress?
I find music a great aid for winding down. Do your characters find this and what music helps them?
Are your characters generous in spirit? Do they support charities and if so which ones? What made your characters support a particular charity type? Are there any charities on the fictional world you write about? What is the general attitude of socity to charity?
I like my characters (those I write and those I read!) to be well rounded, to have clear virtues and vices and to be the sort of people I'd be likely to get along with. Other things I like to see include:-
What form does literacy take in your fictional world? Do your characters read for pleasure or is reading restricted to the "upper classes"? Are the books available fiction, non-fiction or both?
Are books available in the forms we know them or are they on scrolls or things of that nature? How far developed is education in your fictional world?
Knowledge, of course, is power so how do your characters use their knowledge? How do they abuse it? Does literacy backfire because it is abused?
Also it can pay to think about your favourite books and characters and examine why they are your favourites. Is it unexpected depths to a character that makes them top of your best character list? What qualities does your favourite book have that you would want to reproduce in your own? (And it is qualities you're looking for. The last thing you want is to produce what others might feel was a poor imitation but if, say, the quality you liked most was the book's sympathetic characters, then you will seek to create your own sympathetic characters but they will be set in your fictional world, your stories and be unique to you).
The stuff of nightmares can come into so many fiction genres (crime, drama/saga etc) but I feel horror, science fiction and fantasy are probably the leaders here. Why? Because there are so many species in these genres that aren't available elsewhere and any writer can always invent their own!
I still wonder just what it was Mary Shelley ate/drank before she had the dream that ended up becoming the novel Frankenstein. So sometimes then the stuff of nightmares can lead to classic literature...
What kind of nightmares does your characters have? Why? How do they combat them? Is there any chance of them coming true? Do other characters trigger nightmares in others, deliberately or otherwise? And in a magical world, what effect does magic have on the mind? Can the abuse of magic cause damage mentally or otherwise, leading to nightmares?
Hobbies and pastimes cover a vast field of course but which do your characters enjoy in their spare time? Does your fictional world encourage hobbies or are they frowned on?
Are the hobbies and pastimes the same or similar to what we have on Earth? Equally if the world is totally different from what we know, presumably the hobbies and pastimes are as well so what form would these take?
Can anyone take part in hobbies or are they restricted to the rich and/or others in favour with the ruling powers? Does your fictional world encourage active, sport like hobbies or more artistic ones? Is reading encouraged? And is there freedom to read whatever your characters like or are books limited to what the government prefers people to read? Are writers treated well? (It wouldn't surprise me if they're not. A sure sign of a tyrannical regime, in fiction or otherwise, is when writers are controlled).
Of couse things not being all they appear to be is a daily hazard in any magical world. How do your characters tell what is real or when someone is trying to fool them? When magic goes wrong, who suffers the most and why?
Do your characters have a simple test so they can tell what is magically sound or suspect? Nobody with any sense willingly upsets a powerful fairy, witch or wizard but can this happen accidentally? The person upset did not look like they were powerful and so on.
Can things not always being all they appear to be work to the advantage of your characters and, if so, how? Most in my magical world treat all magical beings carefully, mainly to ensure they do get to live another day. They see this as essential survival technique.
My story, Helping Out, will be appearing in the Bridge House Publishing anthology, Baubles, later this year. Without giving too much away (I will obviously share more news on this as I know more), the story is based on a relationship between two magical species, who are normally at odds.
So how do relationships in your stories work out? Do they cross divides (I would hope at least one did!)? What are those divides and how did they come about? How are the obstacles in relationships worked out? What happens to those who defy your society's norms?
Of course sometimes obstacles are not overcome. I saw Romeo and Juliet this week (as performed by the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company as a National Theatre Live production) and was enthralled by it. It's interesting in that although I knew full well how this story ended, I was still gripped by how the story comes to that conclusion. Its overall message of the pointlessness of continual enmity and hatred is, sadly, as timely as ever.
I can't think of any civilisation or culture that doesn't treat history seriously and rightly so. We remember our wars, our heroes, our horrific mistakes, the things we did well and so on. So something of this should show up in fiction, regardless of what genre you write.
Characters have their own histories which, of course, should have a huge bearing on their behaviour, attitude and general outlook on life. They should be shaped by the history of the country, town, world etc they belong to, whether they take the official line or rebel against it.
I don't think it is possible to be indifferent to history given it is the story of where we come from and how can you be indifferent to that?
Characters should reflect something of this too. They will react to history, personal, cultural or both, even if that reaction is a bad one. (It probably won't be bad from their viewpoint and it should be interesting to show how they've reached the conclusions they have and what consequences arise from these).
I mention history as my latest Chandler's Ford Today post is about becoming a heritage guide and ties in with previous posts relating to the Battle of Agincourt. This is being commemorated over two years due to the 600th anniversary and Hampshire's links with the battle. So here we have a historical story being brought back to life to bring in the tourists and all the benefits that brings to an area. Does your fictional world do something like this? What industries does it have? How does it use its history - honourably or otherwise?
Teamwork can be vital in all walks of life and can vary from a team of two working as one to sort out a situation to a many-peopled team sorting out a specific and often life threatening issue.
The relationships between members of a team could well be worth exploring and add depth to your story. Not everyone welcomes being in a team after all, even when the situation remains "fluid". Who leads your teams? Does anyone reject the way this happened? Who tries to split the teams up (and for what purpose ultimately)?
What doe your teams) achieve? How do team(s) back up the main characters? What are the failings of the team?
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.