by Jennifer Kemnitz
How to thoroughly intrigue and hook the reader? With so much literary content literally at one’s fingertips in this technological age, the question has never been more relevant for a writer. The many approaches to this, no matter the form or genre, include compelling voice, character, diction and cadence. I would like to explore one particular resource: the folk and fairy tale genre is a veritable well of ideas just waiting to be tapped, a repository of storytelling know-how since time immemorial.
Originally, the tales were told to entertain and amaze people of all ages, as well as to illustrate the truth of life as it is experienced, if not quite as it plays out. Later, many of the dark elements were smoothed way in print editions and film to make them more appropriate for modern-day children. Their most magical, fascinating elements derive from the language of dreams or from myths that likely no longer served a religious purpose by the time of the tales’ inception. Just as myths were first mined to create these tales, studying folk tale motifs and structural elements can now be a practical tool in writing new stories, poetry and creative nonfiction.
Two of the poems that I presented in the VoiceCatcher reading at Multnomah County Central Library, in March 2015, had their genesis from dream elements (including “Under the Sign of the Water Bearer”), and the third was riffing off a myth or legend. One of my main objectives in the last few years has been to write modern folk tales, or at least some hybrid form blended with contemporary fiction. For me, it is harder than it looks to write in the dream space these tales require, but the effects are well worth it and render a memorable story.
Just what is happening in both folk and fairy tales to create their magical effects? The magic has much to do with the symbology of dreams, so take the time to pay attention to your most interesting dreams and study why they have so much psychic power. Dreams make intuitive sense to the dreamer and to those who study dreams enough to recognize broad themes, but they first appear full of non sequiturs as far as the logical mind can puzzle out.
In the next article in this series, we will look at this subject in greater depth. In the meantime, here are tips to get you in the right headspace:
- Jot down interesting dreams or dream elements. The more attention I pay to my dreams, the better I remember them in the days following. If you have not focused much on your dreams before, you might be surprised at what you discover about the psychological meaning of your dream just in the act of writing it down. You may be able to use these elements as magical motifs in your writing.
- Look out the window or go to a cafe and begin to translate what you are seeing and hearing into dream language or significance. What might happen next if it were all a dream? What could happen? And what might it all seem or come to mean? Begin to blend the waking and dream worlds a bit. From here, a fairy or folk tale could develop.
Jennifer Kemnitz is an herbalist-poet who lives and writes in Portland. She is a great defender of plant life, and can be roused at any moment to an impassioned discussion of its innate intelligence. Jennifer has been published previously in VoiceCatcher and anthologized by Poetry on the Lake and The Poetry Box. Her work is forthcoming from We’Moon and the Kerf.