We recently published Ellen Rhudy’s glorious “A Writer’s Guide to Fairy Tales.”
Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) I love stories like this, that play with tropes, that let the reader in on what the writer is doing. What made you choose “fairy tale” for this piece?
I’ve always been interested in stories that are told and retold, and I think fairy tales are especially interesting because the people within them are so often “blanks” that readers can project themselves onto. There’s so much room for writers to retell these stories and make them totally their own, like in one of my recent favorites, “The Candy Children’s Mother” by A.A. Balaskovits. Every once in a while I get excited about retelling a fairy tale, and that was actually how this piece came — I was struggling to get started and so I started writing more to myself, thinking, “okay, what are the rules I have to be following here?” And then it got away from me.
2) You skip the third rule of storytelling and move right into the fourth — I love the cleverness of this! How many rules of storytelling do you think there are and, of course, do they deserve to be followed?
Oh gosh, there are probably endless “rules” for storytelling, and because I didn’t study writing in school I feel like I’m always stumbling over ones I wasn’t aware of. In some ways I’m interested in these rules, because it can be fun to think about what our expectations are as readers, and what rules we as writers will follow or break to meet or expand those readerly expectations. One of the things I love about flash is that writers have so much freedom to abandon or break the rules; you can trust that a reader will spend five minutes with you in a piece that’s doing something new. I write a lot of longer stories, in the 5000-7000-word range, and I’ve found that in those stories I’m almost always telling the story in a linear way that probably lines up to many of the rules (again, whatever they are!) of what a short story should be, because I’m hoping this will keep a reader with me through the strange things I’m asking them to believe. I sometimes find myself amazed by writers who are able to create their own narrative rules and logic and make it work, always wondering, “How did they do that?!” All to say, I guess I think the rules were made to be broken or at the very least stretched.