So we're all excited about the Third Annual Literary Lab Contest, right? We've all read the two "theme" stories and are now wondering how to create an interesting variation on one or both of these stories, right? Right?
What's that? You're stuck for ideas? You aren't sure how to turn an existing story into something your own without simply paraphrasing it? Well sit yourself down and I'll attempt to give some advice. Actually, "advice" is probably the wrong word. What I'm really going to do is sort of talk about what goes through my mind when I look at these stories and wonder what I'll do with them. It might be messy and pointless, but here goes. Ready?
First, there are some images common to both stories. Each starts with a guy walking through a forest and meeting a woman. One of them is a witch and the other is the man's abandoned wife. Hell, there's plenty of material there. What if both the witch and the abandoned wife showed up at once? or if the man's estranged wife was a witch? What if the witch or the estranged wife was the main character instead of the man? Lots of possibilities.
Next you've got (in the Chekhov) the wife pleased despite herself to see her husband, and she begs him to come home. But what if she wasn't pleased? What if he was trying to weasel his way back into her affections and she didn't want him? What if she'd found someone else? Hmm?
In the Anderson tale, the witch begs the man to do her a favor. She offers riches in payment for his retrieving her magical tinderbox. There must be some ways to turn this around, to spin it sideways, though I can't think of anything this second.
So anyway, in the originals both women want the man to do something for them. You could get all Freudian and examine the idea of the man climbing up a tree to go down its hollow trunk carrying the witch's apron. That's clearly some sort of sexual imagery, isn't it? What on earth is going on with the soldier putting dogs onto the witch's apron and getting money? I have no idea but it's a disturbing image if I dwell on it so I don't. The forest has long been a symbol of feminine sexual presence and power in European fairy tales. So the soldier's already on her turf, in a way, with his rifle or his sword. Lots of freaky area to explore there, unless you want to just say that sometimes a forest is a forest, a hollow tree is a hollow tree, a sword is just a rifle etc and ignore the subliminal sexual images. But note in passing how the witch's request mimics sex while the abandoned wife offers the possibility of actual conjugal sex. Are there kids reading this? Go to bed, kids. Your mother and I are talking.
In the Chekhov story, the man declares that he's happier being single, working on an estate for a lord, and he leaves his wife in the forest, turning back and giving her a ruble out of guilt. This is a story about selfishness and guilt, and because the wife watches her husband as he goes out of sight, still pining for him, it's a story about unfulfilled love and hopeless dreams.
The fairy tale has the typical task-in-three-parts structure, with the stakes and the rewards escalating. It's also clearly (if you ask me) some sort of hybrid, with two stories grafted together: the magic dogs in the magic tree is one story and the forbidden princess in the tower is another story. I might be tempted to only focus on one of these stories. Or I might make the estranged wife the princess in the tower, somehow. Metaphor might be the way to go here.
Setting and tone will determine much of this. I might set it in modern day, and the witch might be a witch or something else. The hunstman/soldier might be a soldier, or he might be an arbitrage trader; I don't know. The whole thing might be told in letters, or via emails or text messages. Hard to say but I don't know how much that matters at this stage. Intriguing, though.
Endings? Well, there are the endings of the "theme" stories, with the huntsman going off without the wife and the soldier getting the girl and the riches. Use them or not as you like. I'll probably look for some other way, and I'm more attracted to the open and indeterminate nature of Chekhov's ending. More things might be to come; we just don't know, do we?
There are multiple characters in these stories, and you could write something from any of their points of view. The huntsman's new employer, maybe. Whoever owns the forest where the action takes place. And maybe the huntsman is The Huntsman, and the abandoned wife is Red Riding Hood and this is years after the Wolf was killed. Who knows? Maybe the soldier is a deserter and he hides in a tree stump and the witch discovers him while looking for her tinderbox, which she needs to light the fire under her oven which contains Hansel and Gretel? The directions you can take these stories are pretty much endless.
Me, I've decided to work forward blindly from this sentence: She was always meeting men in the forest. I have no idea what it means, but that will be a spur to creativity. So good luck, Mighty Writers! Off you go to write!