I’ve come across some strange opinions in my life, and one that made sense, after hearing a good explanation, is that fairy tales aren’t compelling stories.
Now, fairy tales do teach life lessons and moral values, and I think some of history’s greatest characters come from them, because they’re stories everybody knows. Stories like Peter and the Golden Thread or The Table, The Donkey, and The Stick are funny to read (or sad), and can help us reflect on life.
But from a fiction writer’s (or copywriter’s) perspective, these stories aren’t that great.
Take Little Red Riding Hood, for instance. An interesting story about a girl taking a trip through some woods to visit her ill granny. She meets a wolf on the way there, and tells him what she’s up to. The wolf jumps ahead of Red, and eats the granny before Red gets there. And Wolfy eats Red too, after the classic “All the better to eat you with.” A hunter guy comes along and helps out Red and her grandma, by slitting the wolf, having the ladies jump out, replacing them with rocks (in one version), and sewing up the wolf. Mean old Wolfy bites the dust when he drinks from a stream because of his gut full o’ rocks.
Now, there are bunches of versions of this story that in some ways contradict what I’d planned to say, including a Bugs Bunny cartoon and a cartoon movie with a secret agent Granny. But I’ll be writing based on my own perception of the story I remember growing up.
Here are three reasons why this story isn’t the best it could be, from a fiction standpoint:
1. There’s no backstory about Little Red. Other than having a sick grandma on the other side of some creepy woods, we don’t know anything about her. It’s not clear how old she is, which may account for her blabbing to the wolf about what she’s up to. (Then again, sometimes I run on and on). And I still can’t believe she didn’t know it wasn’t her grandma, right away. Sure, she suspected. But wolves are carnivores who can’t brush their teeth, after all. And I’ve never known a wolf who could cook.
2. This story is plot-driven–meaning it’s about the events in the story, rather than the people. Red goes into the forest because she cares about her grandma, which is good. And her mom told her to go into the forest to help an ill relative. That does show a little bit about Red, but she can’t think outside the confines of this story. What if she wants to use what’s in the basket to have a party instead? Sure, it looks bad, but sometimes people make decisions like that.
3. There’s no conflict. Sure, we have the thing with Wolfy eating everyone he can get his paws on, but there’s no ups and downs, other than Red and Granny being in the gut of Mr. Wolf, maybe forever. But as far as emotion for Red’s plight, I can’t muster up anything more than “ho, hum.”
Here’s how we can jazz it up by asking one of fiction’s most cherished questions–What If?
What if Little Red finds out Granny isn’t ill when she arrives with the basket of goodies? Why would her mom lie to her? And what would the Wolf and hunter have to do with it?
What if Red’s basket carries a cure she spent her last dollar on, Granny’s terminally ill, and the Wolf’s out to stop her?
What if Red baited the Wolf into following her, to lure him to his doom in the woods as payback for him slaying most of her family?
What if Little Red is running away from the hunter, and is helped by Wolfy and Granny? Why is she running from the hunter?
What if Red is running to the forest to escape capture for something she did–because she is a wolf herself, the other Wolf is her long-lost lover, and they plan to run away together, with Granny’s help? (Just had to get the science fiction/fantasy angle in there, at least once)
These “What Ifs” are the reason why 10 people can use one suggestion to write 10 different stories–so many factors can be added, or taken away.
And that’s just touching the possibilities here.
From a copywriter’s perspective, Red Riding Hood is a bit of a nightmare, actually. There’s not much clue about the things she likes. But there are glimpses into some problems she’s having. We’d have to interview her, maybe. She could be interested in:
Assertiveness training to avoid that wolf problem, or self-defense classes
A headlamp or belt clip light to make the woods less scary
A part-time business she could run to afford a courier service to fly Granny’s basket to her, with a personalized video greeting–so that Red can avoid the woods altogether
And there’s a lot more we could do, for sure.
Before we close out, could I ask you something? Do you have a favorite fairy tale? Why? Let me know in the comments section below.
Until next time,