Along the way, I've been considering the question of why fairytale retellings are such fun to read and especially to write. Perhaps the appeal lies in starting with an existing story structure—for writers like myself, anyway, who find crafting a cohesive plot one of our biggest challenges! The few main plot points are laid out for you, almost like a template, leaving you free to play with the more colorful and subjective elements of character and setting to your heart's content.
Looking for a metaphor, I thought at first of comparing it to a recipe, but then thought better of it: you don't have quite so much freedom to shuffle the ingredients of a recipe. It's more like a menu. On a menu you have a list of categories or components—appetizer, soup, meat, vegetable, side dish, dessert—and it's up to you to fill in the blank on each and come up with as many different combinations you can think of, using a specified number of each of those pieces.
So, to take the most familiar example, the list of components for a Cinderella story looks something like this:
Key components (main dish and entrees, shall we say)
- 1 heroine in unhappy or restricted circumstances (Cinderella)
- 1 unkind relative/figure of authority responsible for heroine's unhappy state (Wicked Stepmother)
- 1 hero, deemed inaccessible to heroine by his station in life or some other circumstance (The Prince)
- 1 important event at which hero and heroine are brought together, with a crucial moment or disaster coming at midnight (The Ball)
- 1 benefactor who makes it possible for heroine to attend said event (Fairy Godmother)
- 1 lost shoe that proves vital to the heroine's fortunes (The Glass Slipper)
Minor components, optional (appetizers and desserts, if you will)
- 2 other relatives/persons in heroine's life who assist in making her unhappy; also frequently rivals for hero's attention (Wicked Stepsisters)
- Parent or parents of hero, preferably in position of authority and/or grandeur (King and possibly Queen)
- Variable number of small friends or allies of heroine (mice, dogs, horses, etc.)
Do you enjoy fairytale retellings? If so, what do you think makes them fun to read and write?