Making Stories Your Own

I just found this really fascinating article about the history of Cinderella. yeh shenFor most of us, probably our first introduction to Cinderella was Disney’s 1950 version. As we got older, we probably heard rumors of the darker Grimm version in which the sisters mutilate their own feet to fit in the slippers. But you might be surprised to learn that there are 345 known versions of the Cinderella story; who knows how many versions have yet to be discovered.

There is a Chinese version of Cinderella not mentioned in the article that dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907) about a young girl named Yeh-shen. Her only friend is a fish, but her stepmother kills the fish out of spite. The fish, though, is mystical and turns his bones into golden slippers. You can buy a version of this story on Amazon. I also vividly remember CBS showing a short animated version of this story as part of their “Storybreak” on Saturday mornings. I got ridiculously excited when I found it on Youtube. I would encourage you to watch the whole thing because it is pretty fabulous.

So, of course, Disney’s version (nor even the Grimms’) was from original material. Shakespeare, the greatest writer in the English language, also did not write original stories.

My point in all this is, don’t shy away from telling a story if you think someone else has already written something similar. Also, if you are struggling with coming up with an idea, try looking at existing ideas and think about how you could make them your own. Don’t plagiarize, obviously, but telling old stories in a new way that better speaks to kids and adults of a new generation is a great way to break into writing. In my upcoming collection of erotic short stories, I draw a lot on existing Chinese tales and folklore. Some of my stories are original, but some of the characters are people who really lived or are well known Chinese fairy tale figures.

So how about you? What well-known story would you like to rewrite or update?