Hello there, Kendra E. Ardnek here. You may have heard of me from the Character Encounters that Kiri Liz takes part in every month. Perhaps you've heard of me from the Memorable Worlds posts that she did in honor of the release of my newest book, The Ankulen.
One thing you may or may not know about me is that I love fairy tales and fairy tale retellings. In fact, my first three published books are mostly retellings, and while The Ankulen is mostly Christian allegory, there is a fairy tale is mentioned in one chapter. At one time, I called myself the Arista of Fairy Tales, which basically meant that I knew everything there was to know about fairy tales, could control them, and bring them to life. Yeah … I indulged in strange fantasies as a child.
I love reading retellings, too. However, while there are many out there that I'll recommend without hesitation (and probably talk your ear off while I give away the entire plot), there are others that I just can't get into. Personally, I'd like for every retelling to fall into the first category. So that's why I've come over to Kiri's corner of the blogosphere, so I can tell all of her readers how to write the books I love so much.
(Disclaimer: No, I don't recommend following ALL of these suggestions. This might result in you writing my books, and I wouldn't like that. Also, every example I give will be a real book, with the odd movie thrown in, but I don't necessarily recommend every one, nor have I necessarily read every single one.)
Come up with an creative title.
As much as I enjoy the Disney versions, most of them annoy me on some level – except for Tangled. For the longest time, I thought it was the changes that annoyed me (I can be a very strict cannon purist), but when Tangled came out and I loved it, I realized that it wasn't JUST the changes. You see, when they used the title of the original tale, that's what my brain expected. Finding Belle (not Beauty) the only child of an inventor rather than the youngest daughter of a merchant annoyed me. Aurora's two hour nap rather than hundred year sleep irked me. But Rapunzel being a princess and Flynn a thief? Well, I was a bit upset when I first found out, but once I saw the movie, I was fine with it. Why? Because the title wasn't Rapunzel. My brain expected a retelling, not the actual fairy tale.
Really, it doesn't matter to me what your title is (as long as it's not THE original). If you want to do something obvious, like Beauty Sleep, that's lovely. If you want to surprise me with a title that has nothing to do with the official tale, like Sew, It's a Quest (my first book's title), I'll be ecstatic when I find out what I'm reading. Just have fun and let me know this is a retelling and not the real thing.
I like Disney princesses as much as the next dreamy-eyed girl, but I get very annoyed when I see people treating them like they official. I don't mind a slight nod (like the mention of talking mice in Just Ella), but if your book is Disney on paper, I probably won't finish it.
Retell a lesser known tale.
Most retellers choose either Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast. If they don't do one of those, they pick one that Disney or some other well-known film company has popularized. And while I don't mind reading some of these for the hundredth time if it's well done, there's only so many ways you can twist a tale. There are hundreds of fairy tales out there. Don't limit yourself to twenty. If you don't want to go too far out on a limb, pick one similar to a well-known tale. For Biddle's Sake is a retelling of Puddocky, one of my favorite fairy tales. However, this tale shares traits with both Rapunzel and the Frog Prince, so while readers like me know it for what it is, lesser read people don't sit around wondering where the story came from.
Mix and Match.
This is another way to sneak in obscure tales. Every reader of Sew, It's a Quest knows that it's a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, but what most don't realize is that the Mountain Princess is not of my own invention either (actually, there are only two characters in the entire book that are purely original to me, but that's a topic for another day). She comes from the fairy tale Casperl and the Princess, which is so obscure, the only place you'll find it online (to my knowledge) is my blog. In fact, the more nods you can make to other fairy tales, the more I like it. A word of caution, though. Combining the two Snow Whites (Seven Dwarves and Rose Red) is something I've seen three too many times. So unless yours looks REALLY good, I'll probably not even pick it up.
Don't just stick with other fairy tales!
Add in legends (there's a retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk that also has Robin Hood in it that I'd really like to read), myths (one of my favorite retellings of the Twelve Dancing Princesses is The Princess Curse, which mixes in the story of Hades and Persephone), Shakespeare (Cinderella and the Merchant of Venice, anyone? actually, no, that's mine – no stealing), other classics (Kiri, I'm really looking forward to Twelfth Kingdom!) and even history (I'm just waiting for someone to rewrite Sleeping Beauty with Richard the Lionheart's dad as the prince).
Have a REALLY good twist.
My favorite retelling ever is Ella Enchanted (though the movie can be skipped, in my opinion). Why, well, Ella has a really good voice, and she and the prince actually get to know each other before the fateful ball – but the clincher for me is the twist. Ella's steps don't make her a servant because she's good and sweet and more beautiful than them and all that, but because she was “gifted” and/or “cursed” with obedience as a child. Any order she is given, no matter who gives it or what it is, she must obey.
Don't hinge the plot on the Fairy Tale.
With the above example, it followed the plot of Cinderella almost to the letter (which is something cannon-purist me loves) but the conflict is different. Ella wasn't an innocent girl with impossible dreams. (Come on, sing it with me, you know you want to – iiiiiimmmpooossssiblllle!!!) She was a fiercely determined young lady who wanted to get rid of her curse. Not that she was rebellious, but she wanted to be able to choose who she obeyed and not feel like a puppet. (Or endanger the prince if she married him.) The question wasn't so much would she get to the ball and marry the prince – but would she ever be free from her curse.
Tell it from someone else's point of view.
Everyone knows the hero's and heroine's stories, but what about the evil stepsister? No, I haven't read Cofessions of an Evil Stepsister yet, but I'd like to. Or better yet, make a completely (or mostly) new character and tell it from her (or his) point of view. For instance, Do You Take This Quest? the sequel to my first book, is mostly from the perspective of the prince's great-great-aunt, who had attended Sleeping Beauty's fateful birthday party. In The Frog Who Would Be Prince, one of my favorite Frog Prince retellings, the main character is Tom, the boy who's helping the frog find a princess to kiss him.
Don't focus on the Romance.
Yeah, I know that most fairy tales are prince meets princess, they fall in love, they face a few trials, they get married. But I'm not a huge fan of the romance genre. I like to see character development, new exciting trials, relationships with new characters … not … kissing and how each makes the other's heart go all a flutter.
Make me laugh.
This is, perhaps, the most important thing to remember. I can forgive the most glaring of faults, even suffer through a romance, but if a book doesn't make me laugh (or at least crack a grin, I can be a very stoic reader), I probably won't connect with it. I love all sorts of humor, as long as it's clean and doesn't victimize anyone.
I think I shall close here before this guest post becomes a book. Basically, if a book's unique, well written, and not TOO serious or Grimm, I'll probably like it.
Thank-you Kiri Liz, for having me over and letting me lecture your readers. Tell your twelve princesses that wonderful and that if they ever get impatient with waiting for you to write about them, they're welcome to come have tea with me. My own Twelve are being stuck-up snobs right now, and arguing with their cousin about the legality of kidnapping Robin Hood's son.