Monday, March 28, 2011


by Mary Quattlebaum

Fellow blogger Pamela Ehrenberg wrote recently about rituals that can help move us writers and our students more quickly into the act of writing.  A cup of hot tea, a blue pilot pen, and a yellow legal pad tell me that it’s the “write time.”  Writing prompts can also be helpful. A favorite of mine and my students is the Fractured Fairy Tale.

Like my Nutty Nursery Rhymes last month, the Fractured Fairy Tale exercise jumps off from traditional pieces of writing that are known to people of all ages.  I’ve done Fractured Fairy Tales with third through sixth graders, college students, and MFA writing students.  This playful exercise is especially helpful when considering/teaching point of view, plot, and development of story tension.

Share or read aloud some well-known fairy tales.  “The Princess and the Pea,” “The Frog Prince,” “Snow White,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and “Cinderella” are but a few popular examples. 

Explore story development:   What does the main character want?  What are the obstacles in his/her path and do they increase in intensity?  How does the character overcome them?

Explore point of view:  What if the story were told from another character’s point of view (the frog in “The Frog Prince,” for example, or the stepmother queen in “Snow White,” or one of the mean stepsisters in “Cinderella,” or the bartered cow in “Jack and the Beanstalk)?  How would the story be different?  What might happen?  What would a happy ending be like for this new character?  [This gives students a chance to explore, too, how a story idea can be shaped in multiple ways, depending on point of view/main character.]

Explore setting/time period:  What if the story took place in a different place and time?  How might it change, for example, if Little Red Riding Hood was a contemporary girl in an American suburb?  Or the frog prince lived in a large pond with other frogs rather than the palace well?   

Write:  Encourage students to write their own fractured version of a well-known fairy tale.  They might tell the tale from another character’s point of view, play around with setting or time, and/or experiment with tone and humor.

Suggested books:  It’s fun to look at the various versions of traditional and fractured fairy tales in print books and Disney films.  Some of my favorites include (traditional) Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales and The Stories of Hans Christian Andersen, selected and translated by Diana Crone Frank and Jeffrey Frank; (fractured stories) Newfangled Fairy Tales (books one and two) edited by Bruce Lansky; (picture books) Cinderella’s Rat by Susan Meddaugh and Peeping Beauty by Mary Jane and Herm Auk; and (novels) The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale and Cloaked by Alex Flinn.

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