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Retelling folktales?

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dking145

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Can anyone shed some light on how to retell a folktale without plagiarizing or changing the content of the story too much?  How much creative liberty do you really have?
Thanks for any insight,
Dawn King
#1 - August 27, 2007, 01:04 PM
« Last Edit: August 27, 2007, 01:15 PM by dking145 »

graywolf

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I'm grappling with the same questions while trying to retell a little-known folktale.  You might try googling "retelling folktales" to come up with some helpful articles like this one in an old SCBWI bulletin,  http://www.aaronshep.com/storytelling/A65.html
#2 - August 27, 2007, 01:16 PM

dking145

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Good luck and thanks for the suggestion.  There are soooo many folktales out there to work with that it could be a lot of fun!  I just don't know how far you can stretch an original that may have already been stretched?               
#3 - August 27, 2007, 01:23 PM

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I've retold and published several folktales.  First, I'd advise you to work from three or four versions of the story you want to retell--you don't want to borrow any one person's wording.  Make sure the folktale is in the public domain (more than 100 years old).  

If someone in recent times, such as Disney, has retold the story, you don't want to include any of those elements.  For example, when I was writing CINDER EDNA, I was advised by my editor to use the Perrault version of the story, not Disney's.  (The Disney version has a current copyright.)  

Your local librarian can help find collections of folktales and there's a reference book that can give you the original source for a particular tale and also tell you which collections include a version of the story.  I think the reference is called STORYTELLER'S SOURCE BOOK or something like that.  (Any librarians who know the exact title?)

Include an Author's Note at the end, telling which versions of the story you used.  Good luck!

Ellen Jackson
www.ellenjackson.net

P.S. The folktales I've published include:  A TALE OF TWO TURKEYS, THE IMPOSSIBLE RIDDLE, SCATTERBRAIN SAM, WHY COYOTE SINGS TO THE MOON, and CINDER EDNA. 
#4 - August 27, 2007, 01:37 PM
« Last Edit: August 27, 2007, 08:09 PM by Betsy »
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MaudeStephany

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Awesome discussion, everyone... has anyone read the Twisted Tales series that is out? I keep meaning to pick them up but get distracted (this is what happens when my kids are shopping with me).
I can recommnend some books to add to the reading list... but it will take a bit of time. I'm in the middle of some edits on my story for Zamoof right now.

Maude  :jump
#5 - August 27, 2007, 02:27 PM

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Listen to Ellen.

When it comes to retelling folktales, I tend to think that you don't need to worry about stretching them too far--if you want to get a sense of what's possible, take a popular story such as "The Three LIttle Pigs" and see what you can find. A children's librarian in a good children's department should be able to find dozens, from fairly traditional to radical, such as David Wiesner's mostly visual version.

If you go into this area, do it as a labor of love, as there's probably less interest in folktales at mainstream publishers now than there was 20 or even 10 years ago. Which is not to say don't do it! Just go in with your eyes open.

And if you want a "how-to" you should check out Aaron Shepard's The Business of Writing for Children--the title is a bit of a misnomer. Aaron, like Ellen, is a published author of retellings and he has a chapter or two of good guidance in his book.
#6 - August 27, 2007, 05:36 PM
Harold Underdown

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dking145

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Thank you to all of you for the wonderful advice -- and wealth of knowledge! 
Dawn
#7 - August 27, 2007, 06:29 PM

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I agree with Harold.  There's less interest these days.  Have you considered an original folktale?  I've had a bit more luck with those in the last few years (EARTH MOTHER).
#8 - August 27, 2007, 08:11 PM
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dking145

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Hi Betsy,
  Actually two of my PB's are "original folktales." Is it an oxymoron to call them that?  I've wondered that when sending my queries.  I've just described them as being "told like a folktale."
Thanks for the input!
Dawn
#9 - August 29, 2007, 06:06 PM

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Either way is fine. One of the first books I ever acquired was an original folktale--The Footwarmer and the Crow by Evelyn Coleman.
#10 - August 29, 2007, 06:17 PM
Harold Underdown

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When I started learning about storytelling, I was taught to gather many versions of the same tale and then to make it my own by adding different description, dialog or phrases.  When telling a story out loud to a young audience it is important to have repetitive phrases (he huffed and he puffed)  and movements at various points in the story.  When those aren't apparent, then you look for places where actions are repeated and create your own repetitive phrase.  I found that translating these to writing can be tricky and often need to be changed.  You just need to listen to the rhythm.

When I was a school librarian, I loved to buy new folktale books.  I felt it was very education for students to read and analyze different versions of the same folktale.  That's why I can't figure out why publishers don't buy them.  Well, maybe they don't cross over into the trade market very well.  Even so, I would think that a modern dressing on an old folktale could be marketable, though I haven't had any luck in that area yet.  I haven't given up.
Judith
#11 - February 22, 2008, 08:00 PM
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MichelleBud

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This is vaguely tangential, but if you're looking for a neat book on fairy tales, I just read Vladimir Propp's Morphology of the Folktale while doing research for my thesis. For being a critical study translated from Russian, it's quite an easy and interesting read. I highly recommend it.

Basically, Propp took hundreds of Russian folk tales and fairy tales and analyzed them by breaking them down into elements based on the function of the characters. There's 31 functions, and while not all of them are in every fairy tale, you'd be surprised at how common some of the functions are. For example, function 30 is "the villain is punished." If you want some ideas for an "original" folktale, it might be interesting to use some of Propp's functions.

Happy Reading! :library
#12 - February 22, 2008, 08:14 PM

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Thanks for the book title, Michie.  It's been a while since I have researched folktales and I haven't heard of this book before.  I'll have to check it out.  Folktales have much to teach us. 
Judith
#13 - February 24, 2008, 11:37 PM
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"original folktales." Is it an oxymoron to call them that? 

When I first sent out one of my picture books, I called it an ‘original folktale’. After having two editors say they weren’t previously familiar with the story, I knew I had to explain it better by adding the words ‘not a retelling’ in my author’s note. Perhaps I should put this phrase back into my cover letter, though. Or maybe someone knows a better way to make this clear right off to a quick-reading editor?

#14 - February 25, 2008, 07:57 AM
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"Original folktale" seems pretty clear to me, but perhaps they assumed you meant that you had put an original spin on an existing folktale.

If you're sending it out again, I think there's no reason not to explain a bit in your cover letter. Say it's not a retelling, but say also what you mean by "original folktale."
#15 - February 25, 2008, 08:03 AM
Harold Underdown

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aclaire1980

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A retelling of "The Three Little Pigs" that I recently read is The Three Little Javelinas by Susan Lowell. You might want to check out this book. Part of the reason this version of the original folktale is so successful is that it has a southwestern theme. If you retell a folk tale, you need to have a new twist on it or an extra element.


#16 - March 25, 2008, 09:59 AM

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