What if I told you that the fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin is a great lesson in story plotting? In fact most fairy tales are great road maps for plotting a story. I can almost hear the scoffing now. But it’s true and I’m about to show you how to use this tale to create your next story.
A story plot is basically a series of events that contain the story’s Big Idea or theme. Plot is what carries the why for any story; the reason the tale is being told in the first place. Within the plot are several components. For instance, the characters’ lives are developed via events that are reacted to in ways that tell us something about each player. As conflict moves toward climax, readers find that the characters have come to a resolution or reached a goal based on the premise set forward in the telling of the tale. Somewhere in this mix you need to make sure that the cost within the conflict, at least for the protagonist, is high enough to matter to your readers.
From my point of view Rumpelstiltskin falls into the mystery genre. In this ancient folk tale, true to the rules of structuring a mystery, certain information is withheld from the heroine – the magic imp’s name. Ultimately the discovery of this name is what saves the young woman and her child. Like any well-plotted story, fairy tales introduce a theme, in this case innocence and coming of age. Built into the theme is conflict or struggle, a turning point in the struggle and a resolution. This in a nutshell is the basis for all fiction – from short stories to full-length novels.
So let’s look at the theme of Rumpelstiltskin. We have a young woman trapped between a bad father (the miller) and a bad potential husband (the king). Both men fail to protect an innocent girl so I think we can clearly see them as evil. I argue that this is true even though they masquerade as good because of the roles they’re playing – father and husband. (This trick is always a good one to use in fiction writing, by the way.) Our heroine is given an impossible task and told that her failure will result in death. The plot thickens.
Enter now the questionable character. Initially this strange little man asks only for the girl’s necklace before spinning a room full of gold out of straw for her. On the second day he accepts a ring in return for saving her life with another room full of gold. It is only on the third day that he asks for her firstborn – and that simply because she has nothing left to give him. The point is that this magician saves the girl three times, which makes him the principal force for good in her life during this ordeal. Rumpelstiltskin is the most intriguing character in the entire story. Arguably he is the character around which the entire mystery is built. In other words, he may not merely be the story’s antagonist. He could possibly be seen as something of a dark protagonist. This is a creature that can walk in and out of a prison without ever getting caught. He’s magical enough to spin gold from straw and give it all away. For him to ask the girl to give him her firstborn when he could obviously steal the child is a very telling bit of character development. In fact, Rumpelstiltskin tells her he will cherish this child beyond all treasure. The little man means to protect the child. Nice twist isn’t it? Especially given the ruthlessness of the girl’s father and the king. The complexity of his character adds to the commitment a reader develops for the story.
This tale is a tragedy worthy of Shakespeare when you begin to dissect and view it from the perspective of plot.
Here are your characters: two evil men, one innocent girl and one dark prince. Next is your plot: A woman is trapped between evil men bent on using her cruelly. She is set an impossible task that will end her life if she fails. Enter a potential savior, one who is not easily seen as trustworthy. Nevertheless he saves her multiple times. The girl’s task through this story is to grow into her own power and save herself and her child. The goal is reached when the girl is able to recite the name of the little man and keep her child.
It’s a simple task to take this plot and come up with a modern variation: A young woman forced into prostitution. She becomes pregnant and her pimp plans to sell the child. Enter a young man, a customer of the girl’s, who is convinced that the baby is his. Together they fight to save the child and escape their fate. I could list a number of challenges that would present themselves in this scenario, but you get the idea. Fairy tales aren’t for sissies and good plots can be buried in strange places.
“Pebble by Pebble” is online at Author Magazine. Find it at http://www.authormagazine.org/articles/dionne_2013_04_14.htm
Hi everyone. The trilogy is in the capable hands of The Editorial Department. We’re reworking everything while also moving forward on finalizing book two in the series. I should have pages in hand from the editor for my rewrite by the end of April and will begin the process of reworking problem areas as soon as I get the editor’s recommendations. I’m hoping this means we’ll have Bleed Through (the first book in the trilogy) repackaged and available for purchase again by the fall. Hopefully we’ll also have White Lies available this fall. And this site will have a completely revamped, more user-friendly look as well. HOORAY! When one door closes another opens!
My latest article is online at Author Magazine. Find it at http://www.authormagazine.org/articles/dionne_2013_01_14.htm
I‘ve decided to self publish the rest of the trilogy. So I thought it might be good to entice you a bit. Here are the blurbs for both books in the series with Dark Matters waiting in the wings for next year
Blue Truth: Bleed Through
by Pamela Moore Dionne
Sculptor Stella Moreland has problems – with string theory physics
and the nagging ghost of her mother, Alta Moreland. Sometimes you
can’t get away from Mama – not even when she’s dead. Alta has taken
up residence in Stella’s studio, apparently coming through from
another plane – a plane that Stella accidentally opened through her
work. Things get even more complicated when Stella’s long dead
father, Jordan Michaels, shows up and tells them he was murdered
almost thirty years ago. Throw in several suspicious deaths among
Stella’s relatives and you find another little problem. There’s a serial
killer who seems to be intent on removing Stella’s family from the face
of the earth. Getting rid of ghosts suddenly becomes less important as
Stella focuses on keeping the people she loves alive. The characters
begin to work together exploiting wrinkles in the laws of physics and
weaving them into a story that is part family redemption, part
exploration of reality, part roller coaster ride.
Blue Truth: White Lies
by Pamela Moore Dionne
Sculptor Stella Moreland is back and still running into problems with
string theory physics and dead relatives. This time she’s trying to save
the life of a young heiress who is either suicidal or incredibly
accident-prone. Throw in one deceased, feather-sprouting great-
grandmother, a failed and long dead priest, a handsome Chinese
American ghost who’s addicted to quoting Nietzsche and you have a
new dilemma facing Stella and her friends. Join them as they step
across the barrier into a different time and plane where opium dens
and Chinese brothels are the norm.
I write about women characters the way I see women in real life. My female friends are strong, reliable, intelligent and resourceful. I can count on them to have my back and they can count on me to have theirs. Much of American media portrays female friendships as treacherous, nonexistent, or doomed. For the life of me I’ll never figure out why everybody raved about Thelma and Louise. What is so good about two women choosing to drive off a canyon wall together rather than face some consequences? REALLY?
Sometimes my dog, Gabrielle, needs to be walked and often that is the only thing that saves me. Gabi is the force that invariably gets me away from the chair parked in front of my computer. Writing is a very sedentary profession. Most days I sit in front of my monitor to work on novels, blog posts, and ideas for magazine articles. This means that most of the exercise I get is limited to the area between my wrists and my fingers. However, when there’s a dog in your life it’s like having your own personal trainer who makes sure you get up and get moving at least once a day!