Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cliche`s, StoryMakers, and Fairy Tales

Last year Storymakers happened at the wrong time for me, so I wasn't able to go. But I put it on my iPod calendar for this year. A year in advance. I was so excited that my kids were finally old enough that I could leave them for a couple of days so I could enjoy the company and camaraderie of other writers. I hadn't done that in a long time.

And then my hubby lost his job. And then we moved to Arizona. And now it's Storymaker weekend again, and I'm not going. (You may all sob for me now. Or play those little tiny violins.)
So I'm appropriately jealous of all of you who've said to us, "I want to submit something for your contest, but I can't think beyond Storymakers!" To all of you, I say, we understand. Indeed, at least 2 of us are going to be there, so look for Tamara Passey and Lisa Turner amongst your number.

That being said, I wanted to give those of you who haven't started a story for us, but want to, a little hand.
One of the best sources I've found for cliche`s are fairy tales. Nikki shared some of a story that was based on the Cinderella tale. But I wanted to talk about WHY they are cliche`. And maybe give you a taste of some of my own.

Fairy tales, as we know them, mostly came from the Grimm Brothers, though there are notable exceptions, such as Hans Christian Andersen and Charles Perrault, Danish and French, respectivly. The Grimms were German, and travelled the countryside as gathering versions of fairy tales as they went. They were linguists, interested in how language shifts while in use, and used these well-known stories passed through the oral tradition as a way to track these changes. Indeed, there are many crossover tales from Charle Perrault, who wrote down stories a century before. But even for Perrault they were already part of the culture. EVERYBODY knew these stories. They were the ones peasants told each other around the fire when the day's work was done. They told them to their children to explain the world around them. Nurserymaids told them to their aristocratic charges to put them to sleep. People have been telling tales since ancient times; think of Aesop, for instance.

Okay. After having given you a history lesson (sorry, can't seem to help it some days), crack open a book of fairy tales. When I was 8 I got a GREAT BIG BOOK from my grandparents full of Grimms Tales. It held so many new ones that I'd never heard before. Beyond Cinderella and Snow White (though they're in there), there was "Snow White and Rose Red", with their run in with a nasty tempered dwarf and a talking bear. Or Iron Hans, about a young prince beguiled by a wild man in a cage, who frees the wild man against his better judgement. Read them, and see if you don't find them full of cliche`s. The reason they had cliche`s in the first place was to give the storyteller a common base for his listeners before he included the new part of the tale. That's why the girls are all beautiful and the princes charming.

There was one story in this book that fascinated me. The Robber Bridegroom has to be one of the darkest of the stories, but I read it over and over. I even wrote versions of it myself in my first attempts at writing long ago.

So to give you an idea as where to start on your own story, here's the first page of my "Goldenheart". I wrote it ten years ago, and I haven't changed it much since, so read it with a grain of salt. I'm a much better writer now. At least I'd hope so. :) Look in my story for those cliche`s, those things that equalize our understanding before we move on to our own twist on the familiar.

Goldenheart  copyright 2001, Megan Oliphant (The entire story is up on my blog.)

Goldenheart was the miller’s daughter.  Secretly, she’d always thought that it was a ridiculous name.  But then the miller seemed ridiculous, too.  He was a big, jovial man, given to much laughter.  And when he laughed, you couldn’t help but laugh yourself.  His belly shook and wiggled with every chuckle.  Strangers thought this meant that he was stupid, but his joviality hid a smart and savvy businessman.
So Goldenheart was surprised when a stranger came to town to do business with the famous miller of Wheaton, her father did not see through the man’s flattery.  The man was tall and dark, his brown-black hair pulled back in a leather thong.  His eyes were dark, too, but in a way that made you think of shadows in damp caves. 
His traveling companions made Goldenheart nervous, too.  They were as tall as their master (for they deferred to him in everything, and did his bidding), but brawny where their master was lean.  And they spoke hardly at all, but in grunts and monosyllables.
Her father had them in to supper, as they had arrived late in the afternoon.  Goldenheart served her father and his guests quietly, trying to avoid the stranger’s eyes.  She ate little, pushing the food around, and crumbled the soft roll into snow scattered across her plate.  But still she felt the man’s eyes on her. 
Her quietness did nothing to dispel the stranger’s interest in her.  As she cleared the food and plates from the table, and the men sat smoking around the fire, she heard the man say, “You have a very beautiful daughter, Miller.”
The miller smiled and chuckled a little.  “That is the truth, good sir.  Many a man has made the same comment.”  Then the miller sighed.  “But she will not have any of those that have offered for her.  Says she can’t leave me and the mill, but I’m sure it’s just her youthful desire for a love match.  Ah, love.  Such innocent dreams.”
“Innocent dreams, indeed,” the stranger smiled, but one that was not in his eyes.  “But Miller, as her father, do you not wish for a man that will provide well for your daughter?  Give her some of the luxuries that can’t be found in this lovely, but small, hamlet?”
“’Tis truly you speak, sir.  Many a time I’ve hoped to see a suitor for her that could give her the beautiful things of the world.  But what kind of man coming to this small place would have those things to give?”
Goldenheart held her breath, for she saw the man’s smile widen.  It showed too many teeth, she decided.  And those teeth seemed somehow more pointed than they should be. 

Any comments on today's post counts towards our mini contest!


  1. I wish I could submit my fairytale to the contest, but it's 7x longer than the entry limit, lol.

  2. Wow, I liked that story, cliche or no.

  3. Great story, Megan. Not cliche! Fun! I think the thing I love about formula fiction (as there are no new plots) is that the joy is in the journey. About cliche: I recently read that cliche is excellent metaphor that has been overused (for a long time.) Sigh. I wish we were going to Storymakers. Maybe next year!

  4. Thank you all for your kind words about my story. I almost didn't post it, just because It NEEDS SO MUCH WORK, lol. But I like the idea of taking out the manaquin inside the story and dressing it up in different costumes. :)

  5. I love fairy tales. There is something about them that makes me want to sit and listen quietly. I think I mostly love the romance and the chivalry of a long-ago world.



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