Suzanne Williams, Author of the Month: Writing the “Take-Off” Story

When I was an elementary school librarian many years ago – after I’d begun to get published but wasn’t yet writing full-time – I did a lot of writing with intermediate grade classes. Plotting a story can be a difficult task for young writers (and old!) so one of my favorite ways to involve kids in fiction writing was to take plot at least partly out of the equation by having students rewrite familiar non-copyrighted, public domain stories. (Think folk and fairy tales, myths, and legends, and even songs, nursery rhymes and jump rope rhymes.)

Typically, after reading aloud several published picture books that were good examples of “take-off” stories (ask your librarian to recommend his/her favorites as there are dozens of them), I would ask students to choose a familiar fairy tale and then rewrite it while changing *one element of the story. I’d remind them that they’d need to vary the events and characters some to stay in keeping with their original big change. The resulting stories were always a lot of fun, and kids had a blast writing and sharing them. (For samples of three student fairy tale “take-offs” click here.)

*Elements to change (pick one):

  1. Point of view change:  Switch the good guys/bad guys.  (Examples: The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka, The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivizas.)
  2. Setting change: Change the setting of the story. (Examples:  The Three Little Hawaiian Pigs and the Magic Shark by Donijee Laird, The Three Little Cajun Pigs by Berthe Amoss. My Old MacDonald in the City)
  1. “After the end” change:  Tell what happened after the story ended.  (Examples:  The Frog Prince Continued by Jon Scieszka, Rumpelstilskin’s Daughter by Diane Stanley)

Fast forward many, many years, and I find that the take-off story describes the bulk of my writing career!  My picture book, Old MacDonald in the City, is a take-off on the familiar song, but with the setting changed to the city. Another of my picture books, Ten Naughty Little Monkeys, is a take-off on the jump rope rhyme and also involves setting changes.  And though not strictly a take-off, I wrote my Halloween story, The Witch Casts a Spell, to the tune of “The Farmer in the Dell.”

For the last seven years my co-author Joan Holub and I have written three take-off series together. Two are based on Greek mythology: Goddess Girls  (Aladdin, ages 8-12) and Heroes in Training (Aladdin ages 6 – 9), and one is based on fairy tales:  Grimmtastic Girls (Scholastic ages 8-12).  Though the plots are more complex, each of the books has as its center an existing myth or fairy tale rewritten in a new and fun way.

GG20

In fact, Joan and I have loved doing take-off series so much that we’ve recently signed on for our fourth. The new series will be based on Norse mythology. The first two books of Thunder Girls (tentative title) will debut in the spring of 2018.

Happy reading and writing!

Suzanne

http://www.suzanne-williams.com

P.S. I’m giving away one autographed copy of the newest book in the Goddess Girls series: Calliope the Muse. Comment to enter for a chance to win. (USA only.) One winner chosen Monday, September 19.

***UPDATE: Congratulations to the contest winner, Lacey L — thanks for reading and commenting on the blog, and enjoy your new book!***

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10 thoughts on “Suzanne Williams, Author of the Month: Writing the “Take-Off” Story”

  1. Neat idea to help a kids writing skills blossom. Both the older girls read your books and hope one day out youngest will be able to read them. She has special needs. the girls love to see their names in the dedication pages as they don’t know another author who does this. 🙂

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  2. Wonderful post, Suzanne! I love playing with the idea of “take-offs,” too. Though I haven’t published any of them (yet!), it’s a fun way to get the creativity gears moving and start getting new ideas and words on the page! 🙂

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  3. Great post, Suzanne! The first series I developed as an in-house editor many years ago focused on retold folk/fairy/cultural tales — so I love watching the success you and Joan have worked so hard to create with Goddess Girls and beyond. The most gratifying project I’ve done with kids (so far) was a 6-week workshop with sixth-graders in which they each selected one of the Greek myths they’d already studied and wrote a new version from a different perspective. Then we worked through the processes of critiques, revisions, final edits, and “publication.” The results were amazing, as you can imagine!

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  4. Thanks for this, Suzanne! What a great writing prompt for students, or anyone, looking for inspiration. I, too, have utilized the ‘take-off’ in more than a few of my tales. It really does throw a whole new twist into things. Congrats on the new series!

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