Ever wonder why there are so many different versions of the same story? Take the classical tale of Cinderella. There are more than 15000 versions of this story spread from Asia to Europe. All of the stories are similar but also have strong variations. This is attributed to the ancient ways these stories were told—Folklore. Folklore is a compound of two words: folk, meaning people, and lore, meaning knowledge. All folklore was passed down from person to person through oral sharing. Imagine passing through a village in long ago Europe. You enter a lodge were a story is being shared by a local storyteller. You’re captivated by this story as you travel you share the story you heard. The story has slight variations from the one you heard in the lodge, but the theme is still the same. Next that person shares the story, adapting it to conform to their situation. The story then continues to be passed around, each time getting different each time. This is what makes folklore so fascinating and dynamic.
Folklore can be a terrific writing tool. So many wonderful stories have been adaptations of folklore. Think about how many modern versions of Cinderella there are. There are literally thousands and all different; from the sweet Disney to the adult version seen in Pretty Woman. Folklore has shown that people love stories and they will willingly take them in many forms. There are specific structures that make folklore what it is. By dissecting how folklore is structured we as writers can use it as a tool to further our writing.
The first is that all folklore has narrative. There is a sequence to the telling. Mostly it’s chronological, sharing what happens in a series of actions or events. There is also plot. All folklore has a beginning, middle, and end. The stories start with a conflict and give a resolution in the end. A common element is that something has to be at stake. Also the characters are very two dimensional. I believe this is why folklore stories do so well in modern literature. With adding three dimensional aspects to these characters you as a writer can make the familiar story new and exciting. There are also three specific genres in the folklore narrative: Myth (superstition vs. folk belief), legends (these challenge the readers belief, plays out in real time with real people), and folktale (a story that takes place outside of reality, like a magical land). I could seriously go into a hundred different aspects of folklore and how its structured and created, but I just wanted to share what I feel are the three basic structures.
Try using folklore in your own writing. Take a fairy or folktale, an urban legend you heard as a child, or maybe even a family legend and try and spin them in your own way. Try to think about the situations you are in right now. Perhaps you want to share the story of Cinderella, but you want a new spin on the classic folktale. What can you add to the story to make it different? A great way to do this would be to orally share the story with someone, maybe a child. Latter after you’ve shared the story ask them to share it with someone else. The version you told and the one they give will be different. Perhaps Cinderella is now a dragon and she is not helped by a fairy godmother but a dragon slayer. Who knows? There are so many ways in which stories can be bent and shared especially by using folklore. And that’s my key on folklore.