Just sitting here spinning straw into gold

Okay, my mom and I were talking yesterday and somehow the subject of Rumpelstiltskin came up. I think I said something about writers being expected to spin straw into gold just like...well, that girl...who was locked in the attic and told to spin straw into gold.

"Yes, what was her name?" said Mom. "Not Rapunzel..."

What was her name? I had no idea, and it became one of those niggling questions that gets stuck in your head like the little song they play on the Small World ride at Disney World. (Don't fight it. Resistance is futile. Just sing it over and over until you either pass out or hit yourself in the head with a hammer, and meanwhile, what was that chick's name?!)

Answer: She doesn't have one.

Some poking around today turned up nothing more than "the miller's daughter" and later in the story, "the queen." I find that kind of interesting. How could she not have a name?

"She doesn't get a name because the story's not about her," said Jerusha.

But...yes, it is! She is the one who is challenged, who changes and prevails. The journey is hers.

This is the first question I have to sort out with every novel I write: Who is this book about? And the answer is not always readily available. The novel I just finished was hijacked by a service person who was hired to clean the house of the main (or so I thought) character. So thinking about it from that perspective, I have to wonder...is the story about the miller's daughter? Fairy tales are almost always neatly formed around the title character. Rapunzel. Snow White. Cinderella.

Rumpelstiltskin.

Who is this story really about? And what does "about" mean anyway? I mean, what's that about. If you care to join me in pondering, you may want to refer to this fun annotated Rumpelstiltskin from SurLaLune Fairy Tales.

Comments

This "who is the story really about" is a really important question to bring focus to a new project. Even in a romance, it's primarily one character's tale and arc. A really well-defined focus helps a proposal/novel sell a lot faster. Too bad the focus doesn't always reveal itself until the draft's complete.

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