Monday, 5 January 2015

When a story makes demands of you – Lynne Garner

A few years ago I ventured into writing stories for older children based on traditional trickster characters, these being Anansi the Trickster Spider and Brer Rabbit. This move away from picture books meant a great deal of reading and research, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. As part of my research I downloaded a huge library of books that contain the first written form of many of these traditional tales. Reading some of these books was a challenge because of the language used. As I read these traditional stories I always had at the back of my mind the age range I was writing for. So I put aside the idea of using the devices I often use in my picture book writing such as rhyme, rhythm and repetition and others such as alliteration. I also had to remember I wouldn't have images to help me tell the story.     

However this recently changed whilst I was researching a new trickster character, this being Coyote. As I ploughed through yet another book I came across a story which for some reason demanded “turn me into picture book.’ As I read it I could see where I could use repetition, feel the rhythm I would create with the words, how I could leave sentences 'hanging' so the reading would want to turn the page, where a little alliteration would work well and I could 'see' the supporting images which would help me tell the story. I found myself grabbing a piece of paper, folding it into twelve equal sections and I was soon plotting a new picture book story.

I now find myself with the first draft of a picture book story based on a traditional Native American Indian story. I also find myself wanting to revisit the books I read whilst researching Anansi and Brer Rabbit to discover if another story makes the same demand. So over the next few months I plan to continue to work on the stories for older readers. However I’m also going to read with the view that if one of these traditional tales makes the same demand I’ll fold a piece of paper and get out my little bag of picture book writing tricks and try to make it’s wish a reality. You never know one of these may just become my next picture book.

Lynne Garner

My writing eCourses which start this month:


Jonathan Emmett said...

Happy New Year, Lynne!

My next early reader, out in February, is also adapted from a traditional tale. "Danny Dreadnought Saves the World" is based on the "The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was", one of the folk tales collected by the Brothers Grimm. I've always liked the story and thought it would work well in a modern-day setting. Where the original version featured fearsome ogres, my updated version features fearsome aliens.

Breathing new life into a forgotten tale can be just as satisfying as writing a new one from scratch, especially if you're able to put a fresh spin on it. It's like reupholstering a beautiful old armchair in a contemporary fabric; you get something that feels both modern and traditional at the same time.

I love the Anansi and Brer Rabbit stories, so I'll keep an eye out for your Coyote tale.

Moira Butterfield said...

There are important truths in those folk tales, along with strong characters, which is why they've been around so long, I guess. I think it's a great idea to update them as picture books, Lynne.