Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Writing Prompt/Finding Folklore Voice with Bobbi Miller

Thomas Carlyle once said, "Every man is my superior in that I may learn from him."  This is  true in many ways. As writers, our job is to listen.  We should listen to the stories themselves, to the people, to the ways they or told, to why they are told.  What I love about folklore is that it celebrates people, the stories they have to tell, tells about their life or time and passes along their knowledge or lesson. 

Folklore is the root from which modern day story telling began. Even if you don't plan to write folktales, it is surprising how much can be learned from even a brief study of the genre.  I am extremely pleased to have author and writing teacher Bobbi Miller here today to share some of what she has learned in her study of folklore and help you find your folklore voice. Be sure to check out her link!


Finding Your Folklore Voice with Bobbi Miller

We’ve all heard similar advice about the folklore process and how to retell the folktale. Research the tale, study its context, recognize and play with the universal motifs, including character and plot, and the kernels of truth that defined the  tale. Two of my favorites, Eric Kimmel and Rafe Martin are masters of the process and each has written, told and taught extensively, creating an impressive collection of folktales around the world. [You can read more of their insights, as well as a gathering of several writers, editors, agents and librarians, on the role of the picturebook folktale in the current publishing climate, ‘Where Have All The Folktales Gone?’ at

In my own journey learning about the process, I come to recognize that a folktale, whether a retelling or adaptation, is defined by its oral nature. As a result, language becomes as integral as the story and the illustration. In fact, language becomes as much a character as the protagonist. In my picturebook “Davy Crocket Gets Hitched” (Holiday House, 2009), the language, like the characters, is rambunctious and bodacious. The language defies the tidy, restrictive, even uptight structure of formal grammar. It mocks it, in fact, using pseudo-Latinate prefixes and suffixes to expand on the root. The result is a teetotaciously, splendiferous reflection of a wild frontier too expansive for mere words to capture.

In this exercise, play with language by creating metaphors and similes that engage in the senses.  Stay away from the obvious, and dare to explore and stretch your imagination!

  1. These socks smelled like ____.
  2. She buried the secret like a ____.
  3. His voice grated like a ____.
  4. The mist rose up like ____.
  5. The clouds scowled like ____.
  6. The tree kissed the sky like ____.
  7. The forest is ____.
  8. His temper raged like ____.
  9. The children followed their teacher like ___.
  10. He has a heart of ____.
  11.  She sang like ____.
  12. Jack and Jill danced like ____.
  13. A spider on the wall is ____.
  14. The cat slept like ____.
  15. The children on the merry-go-round screamed like ____.
  16. The mouse twitched with ____.
  17. Home is ____.
  18. An empty house smells like____.
  19.  Friendship is ____.
  20. I am a ____.

Come see more about my books and my process on my website at


  1. Thanks for sharing this exercise and for your words about listening to other people's stories. I shared this link on my blog.
    Best wishes,

  2. Hi, Terry! I've always LOVED elephants and as much love "The Elephant Rag"! I've become a follower and look forward to visiting your blog again! Thanks so much for sharing my link!