Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Mix and Mash (Up): Writing Science Fiction Romance Fairy Tales by @aw_cross

by A.W. Cross

Genre mash-ups are nothing new, especially in science fiction. The versatility and speculative nature of SF integrates so seamlessly with other literary genres that many science fiction mash-ups have become genres in their own right.

And I adore mash-ups. Two of my favorite science fiction mash-up genres are science fiction romance and science fiction fairytale retellings. And my ultimate favorite mash-up? Science fiction romance fairy tale retellings. It’s a mouthful, so let’s just call it SFR-FTR for short!  

I love fairy tale retellings because they can be entwined with pretty much any genre, and it’s always fun to see what fresh perspective setting a familiar, old tale in a new setting, culture, or time period will bring. Fairy tales themselves have been told over and over, changing a little (or a lot) with each retelling, and it’s a practice that I think will be around as long as we are. Why science fiction and fairy tales? Well, I write social science fiction, which tends to relate SF from an anthropological view and is concerned more with the effects of technological advances on society, rather than the technology itself. And social commentary is, of course, what fairy tales are all about. They were a way to discuss social issues, morals, and warnings that reflected the concerns of the time in which they were told. The two fit perfectly together.

But writing SFR-FTRs isn’t straightforward. It’s crucial to make strategic decisions about which elements of each genre to keep and which to discard. The fundamentals of the genre the fairy tale is being combined with must be compatible and serve to enhance the fairy tale, rather than obscure it. The conventions expected for each genre—in romance for example, you must have an HEA—need to be respected, or you’ll end up with a mash-up that doesn’t appeal to readers of either genre. Luckily for mash-up authors like myself, there is a saving grace in the form of themes, tropes, and archetypes which are universally understood by readers and act as the glue that holds the mash-up together.

Another difficulty with fairy tale mash-ups in particular, is figuring out which of the original fairy tale story elements to focus on and which to twist. Although it can be tricky, this is one is one of my favorite aspects of writing SFR-FTRs. So how do I do it in order to craft a successful story?

Because I combine science fiction, romance, and fairy tales, I usually start with the most difficult part—which scientific concepts will mesh with which fairy tale. Sometimes, the answer is obvious. For example, Pine, Alive is a retelling of Collodi’s Pinocchio. When I was reading fairy tales for my research, the inspiration hit me the minute I picked Pinocchio up—Pinocchio as a sentient android and the struggle of sentient machines to be “real.” Conversely, with the next in the series, Clara, Dreaming, it was the science that came first. I’d been thinking about the concept of dream manipulation when a fairy tale presented itself—The Sandman, itself a retelling of Ole Lukøje, the Dream God.

Once I’ve decided which concepts to pair together, I then have to pick which elements to include. I always try to preserve certain aspects of the fairy tale I’m using, including the theme and major events that are crucial to the progression of the story. I try to keep character tropes if I can and will also sprinkle little easter eggs and names from the original stories as much as possible.

So what do I change? Gender is something I often swap. I like to have my protagonists be female and changing character gender can be a good way to freshen up the retelling with a different perspective. The setting, of course, is always changed, since I move it to a futuristic, speculative world.

Roles are another thing I like to play with, and that can often add interesting dimensions to the story. For example, in Pine, Alive, I took the cricket and made him into a man—and a love intertest for my now-female android Pinocchio. He still plays a familiar part in my story to the original in that he watches over her and tries to keep her out of trouble, but he now also has a story of his own.

And finally, I add in romance. A lot of fairy tales—especially the ones most popularly retold—already feature a romance, but that isn’t necessary to the ones I choose, because turning a character that normally isn’t a love interest into one, is always a fun way to twist the retelling. And finally, even if there already is a romance, such as in my Sleeping Beauty retelling Rose, Awake, I like to tweak it so it’s still a different romance than the original.

My goal in my mash-ups is to combine all of my favorite genres into a story that is familiar enough to readers who already know and love these tales, but present them in such a way that it feels new and exciting. Hopefully, if I’ve done it right, they’ll love those mash-ups as much as I do!

Author Bio:
A.W. Cross is made of 100% starstuff. She lives in the gorgeous wilds of Canada with her family and a deep nostalgia for the 80s.

Free short story: Rose, Awake: https://books2read.com/u/3RV98x

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