Recently, my favorite author Philip Pullman
published a new version of “Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” Pullman is best known for his fantasy trilogy “His Dark Materials,” but his work includes other genres, such as historic fiction and parodies. I read his work voraciously and always take away something inspiring when I read interviews with him.
In his recent book, “Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm,” I was struck by his description of how fairy tales are different from modern fiction and how these differences make the stories work. Pullman writes:
“There is no psychology in a fairy tale. The characters have little interior life; their motives are clear and obvious. The tremors and mystery of human awareness, the whispers of memory, the promptings of half-understood regret or doubt or desire that are so much part of the subject matter of the modern novel are absent entirely.”
The “flatness” of the characters also helps the tales to move along:
“Swiftness is a great virtue in the fairy tale. A good tale moves with a dreamlike speed from event to event, pausing only to say as much as needed and no more. You can only go along that fast, however, if you’re traveling light; so none of the information you’d look for in a modern work of fiction — names, appearances, background, social context, etc., — is present.”
The driving narrative also forces the author to just tell the story, as Pullman told Mother Jones
magazine in a recent interview
“This is the value for me of writing books that children read. Children aren't interested in the least about your appalling self-consciousness. They want to know what happens next. They force you to tell a story.”
The more I thought about fairy tales, the more I wondered if employing some of these storytelling techniques could improve my corporate and PR writing. What else can I do to just “tell a story”?
Does my press release need to discuss all the reasons the board of directors voted to increase rates? Should I just say that rates were increased to meet operating expenses and leave it at that? Do I need three cases studies in that article about sleep apnea, or will one case study work? What else can I do to help readers through my stories?
readers, please weigh in on this one. What else can we do to help readers along?
Laura Hale Brockway is an Austin-based writer and editor. Read more of her work at Impertinent Remarks.