I have a treat for all you writers out there today. Gail Carson Levine, who has written an excellent book about writing for children called Writing Magic, has kindly created a little writing exercise contest for you. This is her challenge:
When I talk to children about “Little Red Riding Hood,” I suggest they picture themselves in the place of Little Red. Then I ask if they would listen to the wolf and leave the path. They all say they wouldn’t. I challenge them. “What if the wolf was as clever as the smartest person you know? Might he trick you into doing what he wants?” They start weighing the possibilities. I go on. “What if the grandmother was your real grandma? Would she let herself and you be eaten?”
This happens to be an excellent exercise in character development for writers of any age or experience, to replace fairy tale characters with real ones. The real people by their natures force old stories to change and become more complex. After all, even in a story you can’t make your brilliant best friend say something stupid or your stubborn cousin suddenly turn compliant.
The most important task in expanding fairy tales is to slow the action way down. Imagine that the heroine just flung a cloak of invisibility around her shoulders. What does the cloak feel like? What’s the fabric? Is there a label? Wait! Back up! Can she even see the label, or does the cloak vanish the moment it’s touched? What are her sensations as it envelops her? Does invisibility happen instantly or creep up? Can she continue to see herself even though others can’t? And so on.
So here’s the challenge: In “Little Red Riding Hood,” Little Red meets a talking wolf. Talking animals appear in many fairy tales, and they’re a source of wonder that you’re about to explore. You’re Little Red approached by the wolf, who wants to delay her so he (or she) can get to Grandma’s first. Write his opening line. You can continue and write the whole scene, a short story, a novel. Go for it. But for the contest, his first statement is all that counts.
Please email your response to this challenge to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Five of you will be chosen to receive autographed copes of Writing Magic and Betsy Red Hoodie.