Episode 73: Fairytales Retold

On December 14, Kasie and Rex were live again with this take on fresh takes on old stories. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

Retelling the Fairytales


  • What’s the appeal of the fairytale?
  • When/Why/How did this retelling thing start?
  • How to do it right
alone book coat fairy tale
Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

Link to the podcast

Segment 1

So this started last week when we were making reference to those stories with expected endings, those classics we all pretty much know: fairytales.

We’ve touched on fairytales before when we discussed the Hero’s Journey and we come back to them again and again when we reference meeting your reader’s expectations. Some time back in 2018 we did an episode on The Seven Basic Plots, that great Christopher Booker book about the repeated patterns of storytellers.

Booker tells us there are seven frameworks:

  1. Rags to Riches – Cinderella, Rocky
  2. Overcoming the monster – Gilgamesh
  3. The monster & the thrilling escape from death – Dracula
  4. The Quest – Lord of the Rings
  5. The Voyage and Return – The Odyssey
  6. Comedy – Twelfth Night (mistaken identities, people in disguise)
  7. Tragedy – Sister Carrie (determinism and all that “can’t fight fate” stuff)

So think of some classic examples and let’s see which loose category they fit in.

Then apply these categories to fairytales:

Cinderella — rags to riches, obviously

Beauty and the Beast — overcoming the monster

Mulan — the quest; but also people in disguise, right? 

Little Red Riding Hood — the monster and thrilling escape

Rapunzel — the voyage and return

Segment 2

Okay, so there’s two ways to go with this because it started with us talking about the women in these stories not having agency – they couldn’t make their own destinies – last week when we talked about the damsel in distress.

So direction #1 – The YA novel’s lean toward giving the female leads more agency by “recasting” these classic stories.

Direction #2 – The modern telling (think cheesy teen movies) that make the female lead seem clever and competent.

I could go either way, really. So here’s notes on both:

Why did publishing pick up fairytale re-tellings recently?

Fantasy publisher Tor has this blog discussing the allure of fairytales and the sometimes not-so-childlike versions of the stories. Reasons for the remakes:

  • “a fairytale in its truest form is a story that needs no explanation
  • tolerates no method, 
  • eschews any kind of logic. 
  • is a narrative dreamland
  • anything is possible, 
  • the why’s and when’s and where’s are left to the imagination 
  • these very gaps draw authors and audiences 
  • incompleteness of the stories = a vivid backdrop for staging new stories, 
  • exploring characters from new angles, 
  • prodding into the cracks and holes to run down those why’s and when’s and where’s.”

So how’s that? The very simplicity and familiarity are what offer the most interesting possibilities and opportunities.


  • Geoffrey Maguire’s retelling of the Oz stories in Wicked and Son of a Witch; and taking on Cinderella in Confession of an Ugly Stepsister
  • Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles: Cinder, Scarlett, Cress, Winter
    • Or, in order Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Snow White

Segment 3

Here’s a comprehensive list of fairytale retellings in the YA genre with the blogger’s review of each. Among the titles are The Little Mermaid and Sleeping Beauty retells.

So are these retellings helping or hurting the craft? Is it fan fiction to pick up someone else’s world and rework it? Or is it a show of craft to make something new out of something old?

Here’s a suggested list of fairytales that need retellings. So how do you do it? Well, this blogger has these five tips:

  • Keep a few familiar elements
  • Add something new or unexpected
  • Beef up the characterization — give us backstory, quirks, hobbies, fears
  • Mix in other stories — familiarity breeds cameos
  • Build a world around the story — like the Lunar Chronicles built a moon-based society? Check.

How do you get into a fairytale retelling? Start asking questions. Like that Tor blogger said, there’s a lot of unresolved stuff in fairytales.

Where does the Hunstman come from? How come no one else knows about the gems the dwarves are mining? How come they keep mining but aren’t rich?

Why is Rumplestiltskin such a dick? Where does his magic come from and why won’t he share it? What’s he gonna do with a kid anyway?

More questions on this blog.

Segment 4

Here’s another list of great retellings in the YA vein. Some questions I have about these, circling back to the conversation we had last week that prompted this topic:

  • Can you create a realistic teenage girl heroine inside the confines of the expectations of a fairytale?
  • Can we re-cast those male protagonists (like Robin Hood) as female convincingly?
  • What happens to the male characters when the females gain agency and can survive without them?
  • What kinds of “adult” things can you do with these and get away with it? Murder? Drugs? Sex? Addiction? Abuse?

What are the benefits of using a fairytale for the basis of your story?

What are some of the drawbacks?

Would you read a fairytale retelling? Why or why not?

We should read through the entire list of Cinderella re-tells, and then switch to Rapunzel, and so on until we’ve got plenty to compare and contrast. Or we could just let some bloggers do it and we’ll share their insights on the air.

Writer News for this week:

One of our collaborators, Preston Stone, has this piece “Two Dead, One Buried” in Sinking City’s latest digital issue. Congrats, Preston!

SCWA long-time member and Greenville Chapter Liaison Barbara Evers featured me on her blog, An Eclectic Muse, this week. See that here. She’s had guests all month and plans to continue for a few more weeks. Thanks to her for the visibility.

The SCWA is partnering with the South Carolina Academy of Authors to present Carrie McCray Awards in 2020. They published the deadlines and submissions guidelines this week. See this link. And the SCWA’s flagship publication, The Petigru Review is live now. You can read it here. Work by authors from all over the world. It’s really a great issue.

Debbie Richard, SCWA member and author, got a great 5-star review for her audiobook on Audible. She shared it in the Facebook group. Linked here. Congrats to Debbie. Reviews are SO important. They really work your rankings on platforms like Amazon, Goodreads, and Audible. If you want to give the best gift to your author friends, go out and review their book for them. Four stars or better if you can. If you can’t, consider sending them a “high five” email explaining why you withheld the review.

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