I’m going to tell you the worst fairy tale ever. Don’t worry — this fast read is worth it and includes key observations about storytelling.
Ready? Here goes …
A girl and a boy moved into a big house. They had cozy beds and lived with a kind woman, who gave them a place to sleep and fed three hearty meals a day. Before they arrived, the girl and the boy hadn’t eaten in days, and they were weak and tired. The woman took care of them every day and nursed them back to health. They met her after they had been lost in the woods for days on end. Their father dropped them in the forest and ran off right before they got lost. They had tried to leave a trail of breadcrumbs so they could find their way home, but the breadcrumbs didn’t work because birds ate them, and they couldn’t find their way back. Then one day after the breadcrumb incident they stumbled upon the woman’s house, which was made of candy. By that time, they were starving, and they ate as much candy as possible. The woman found them eating her house and invited them in. She saw how tired they were and told them to get some much-needed rest in the only beds she had, which were in a metal crate. When the woman let them out of the crate a few days later, she tried to shove them into an oven because she wanted to eat them. The girl pushed the woman into the oven instead. It turns out the woman was a witch, and she was very wealthy. The girl and the boy stole all the witch’s jewels and found their way back home. Their father was glad to see them, and together they lived happily as a family with all the jewels. His wife, the kids’ evil stepmother, had died a few days earlier. She was the one who had told the father to drop the girl and the boy in the forest in the first place. They couldn’t afford to feed them due to the deadly famine raging throughout the land.
Pop Quiz About the Worst Fairy Tale Ever
- What fairytale is this?
- How do you know?
- What is the first sentence that tipped you off?
- What confused you about the manner in which the story was told?
- On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being “whatever” and 10 being “hell yes,” how much does the manner in which the story was told bother you?
Let’s get straight on a few things. Hansel and Gretel isn’t even close to the worst fairy tale ever. However, the order in which I shared the details of Hansel and Gretel bumps it up about a thousand notches on the worst fairy tale ever list. Many readers don’t catch on until the seventh sentence (“They had tried to leave a trail of breadcrumbs so they could find their way home …”). At that point, they’re confused. They know the story of Hansel and Gretel. Why on earth did the writer tell a familiar story in such a convoluted way?
What’s clear is that the telling of the story above is unclear. As a result, many readers will bounce before they’ve made it halfway through (“this story is stupid — buh-bye”). Few will make it to the end (unless they’re being cajoled by yours truly).
Here’s the deal: In the telling above, readers have to work far too hard to get their bearings. They’re lost in the muddled telling, which leaves them confused, frustrated, or outright angry. Most of us don’t like when others waste our time or make us do unnecessary heavy lifting.
The way this story is told is not unlike the way many people write emails, budget requests, government proposals, e-books, white papers, case studies, and technical reports. If you think I’m off base, brew yourself a cup of French roast and skim the craziness that is your inbox.
Muddled thoughts make for muddled writing. Fortunately, there’s a solution: The Persuasive Writing Engine.