We have a double-dose of guest blog posts tonight and the first is brought to you by paranormal women’s fiction author Deb Atwood.
Four Lessons Writers Can Learn from Little Red Riding Hood
1. Conflict foreshadowing
As writers, we can think of foreshadowing in two categories—prediction and tone. Tone foreshadowing would go something like this: “It was a dark and stormy night” (Wrinkle in Time), or “May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month” (The God of Small Things). Examples of predictive foreshadowing would include the oracle in The Odyssey, the witches in Macbeth, and of course, the mother in “Little Red Riding Hood.”
You hear “Don’t talk to strangers,” and you just know that not only will Red talk to a stranger, but also the effects will be dire. Ever had a conversation when someone said, “Don’t think about—“ Fill in the blank: your no account lover, evil boss, pink elephants. Naturally, that’s exactly what you think of. As readers (parent and child alike), that terrifying word “stranger” echoes in our heads until Mr. Wolf swaggers onto the scene.
2. Character juxtaposition
Imagine a chain-smoking, world-weary albeit diminutive (hence the sobriquet LITTLE) Red matched with a dapper, self-deprecating Mr. Wolf. You either can’t do it, or else your picture morphs into a spoofy fractured fairy tale. The reason? We need juxtaposition. Stare at a black piece of paper for a minute, then overlap it with a white sheet. Notice how the black becomes blacker and the white becomes whiter? This works in fiction, too. It matters that Little Red is a virginal, naïve pre-pubescent girl and that the wolf embodies sexual manipulation and evil intent. The jaded wolf predator* closes in, threatening everything Little Red has to lose—her innocence, her purity, her life.
Of course, this is not to say we want to juxtapose black-white stereotypes like the flailing maiden and cloaked villain of the silent film era. We want fully developed characters that exude inherent opposition. For a modern day Red / Wolf interpretation, think wounded, ninety pound Lisbeth Salander vs. her sadist, power-wielding parole officer. Fully developed but opposites in every way. Nor need these characters be adversarial. Fiery Katniss juxtaposed with gentle Peeta. Or impulsive Emma alongside deliberate Mr. Knightley. It works. The bonus—this opposition delivers its own tension.
3. Escalating tension
Conflict comes from goal. Little Red’s goal is to reach Grandmother’s cottage with basket and virtue intact. The wolf’s goal is to devour the goodies, Grandmother, and Red in that order. Notice the escalation of threes—from basket to Grandmother to Red. We care much more about Red, her whole life before her, than we do about Grandmother who has lived a full life and is ailing to boot. Hence, the tension escalates with each lupine conquest.
Obviously, if Red achieves her goal, the wolf does not, and vice versa. Therefore, the protagonist’s goal directly conflicts with that of the antagonist. When Red enters the cottage, Wolf-cum-Grandmother is already established in bed and so promotes the dialogue. “Grandmother, what big eyes you have” and so on. Eyes, ears, teeth. Again the escalation of threes with teeth the deadliest of all and the impetus for the tension-filled chase as wolf / grandmother bounds out of bed and snatches our heroine.
4. Satisfying ending
Endings are tricky, especially for authors such as myself who write hybrid (literary + genre) novels. An ending that satisfies romantic suspense readers will feel to literary fiction enthusiasts as if they had downed a gallon of sweetened molasses. As readers closing in on an ending, we want an idea where the majority of characters stand. Or at least what they intend to do next. Some sense of hope often satisfies though not necessarily everything tied in a ribbon.
But no info dump. You know what I mean—“Why, yes, Detective Wilson, when I strangled Mother, I deposited her Jimmy Choo alligator stilettos at the Greyhound depot on Third and Main—locker 122, here’s the key—after establishing my alibi at the Toledo ornithology conference, just prior to stowing her body in the abandoned Frigidaire. How’d you guess?”
As for Little Red and the Wolf, I can recall three possible endings. The wolf is hanged, body count 3; the wolf is shot, body count 3; the wolf’s stomach is slit with a knife and out pop fully clothed Grandmother and Red, body count 1. Which ending satisfies you?
* Apparently, the wolf is much maligned. I have it on good authority that wolves do not, in fact, devour young girls or grandmothers.
I loved it. Next time I read Red Riding Hood I’ll definitely be seeing it in a new light. Thank you, Deb!
Her writing has appeared in Natural Bridge, Showoff, Tattoo Highway, Under the Sun, Verbatim, The Writing Lab.
If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.
Next up is tonight’s second guest blog post, on the topic of blogging, is brought to you by mystery author Anne R Allen, then the blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with autobiographer Debz Lowry – the six hundred and second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.
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