Friday’s with Karen Cioffi

Rewriting a Folktale
By Karen Cioffi

When a writer’s muse seems to be on vacation, she may be at a loss for
story ideas. While there are a number of sites and tools online to help get
the creative juices flowing, one tool that writers might overlook is
studying folktales.

Reading folktales is a great way to spin a new yarn, especially for
children’s writing. I recently did a review of a children’s picture book
published by Sylvan Dell that was based on an American Indian folktale.
This shows they are publishable.

Folktales, also known as tall tales, and folklore, are stories specific to a
country or region. They are usually short stories dealing with everyday
life that come from oral tradition that is passed from generation to
generation. Most often these tales involve animals, heavenly objects, and
other non-human entities that possess human characteristics.

There is Mexican folklore, Irish folklore, Chinese folklore, as well as
folklore from many other countries that have tales unique to their area.
There is also American folklore that encompasses stories from each of
the 50 states. There is a huge supply of stories to spin and weave.
In addition to reviewing a couple of published children’s books that were
based on folktales, I wrote a children’s fantasy story based on an ancient
Chinese tale.

Interestingly, prior to receiving an outline of the tale from a Chinese
nonfiction writer I knew from one of my writing groups, I never thought
of rewriting folktales. But, once given the outline, I loved the story and
the message it presented. The outline itself was very rough and written
with an adult as the main character (MC), which is often the case with
very old folktales.

After reading the story I knew the MC would need to become a child. I
think every children’s writer is aware that children want to read about
children, not adults. And, the MC needs to be a couple of years older than
the target audience the author is writing for.

Based on this, I decided to make my MC a 12-year-old boy. And, since I
liked the ancient Chinese flavor of the story, I kept it and made the story
take place in the 16th century China. After this was set, I needed to come
up with a title and the MC’s name.

When choosing a title for your book, it’s important to keep it in line with
the story and make it something that will be marketable to the age group
you’re targeting. I chose Walking Through Walls, and it is scheduled to
be available June 2011.

As far as the character’s name, you will need to base it on the time period
and geographic location of the story, unless the character is out of his
element. Since my story was to take place in China, I used a Chinese
name, Wang.

To keep the flavor of your story consistent, you will also need to give it a
feeling of authenticity. This will involve some research. How did the
people dress during the time of your story? What names were used? What
did they eat? What type of work or schooling was available? What
locations might you mention? What type of crops and vegetation would
be present? What types of homes did they live in? There are many aspects
of the story that you will want to make as authentic as possible. And, it
does matter, even in fiction stories; it will add richness to your story.

The next time you’re in the library, ask the librarian to show you a few
folktales. Then imagine how you might rewrite one or more of them for
today’s children’s book market.


Karen Cioffi is an author, ghostwriter (for businesses and individuals),
and freelance writer. For writing and marketing information visit Karen at and sign up for her free newsletter, A Writer’s
World. You’ll get 2 free e-books on writing and marketing in the process,
and two more free e-books just for stopping by.


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