You may or may not be aware that I am an avid podcast subscriber. More often than not, I can be found at work listening to a podcast on my iPod Touch rather than a specific album (although, I also often listen to new artists to post about over at Alternative Airwaves - but that's serving to discredit my intro here). I listen to both music podcasts, and spoken word podcasts. One of those spoken word programmes is Writing Excuses.
tl;dr: Writing Excuses is basically a panel of writers offering tips and advice to aspiring writers and is short and sweet and informative. Check it out if you're at all interested.
In their most recent episode, "6.10 Scott Card's M.I.C.E. Quotient", they use the tale of the Three Billy Goats Gruff as a base to provide fun examples of the M.I.C.E. Quotient. No, I won't describe the MICE Quotient, you'll have to listen to the episode (and seriously, it's only 15 minutes, so it won't take that long to dive into). The result was a fairly entertaining series of stories based on a simple fairy tale, and a neat writing prompt to go with it:
"Apply the M.I.C.E. quotient to Red Riding Hood, and write at least one page of story per element."
One of the elements the panel espoused about using fairy tales was that once you have your basic story established, change everything. Maybe instead of a Wolf, we're dealing with a slimy, green, oozing mess with teeth. The point is, you start with something familiar, and you create something unfamiliar from it.
This is not an unfamiliar process - Hollywood has done this plenty of times, using various sources of inspiration to give us things like Easy A, 10 Things I Hate About You, and She's The Man*. Granted, those are fairly blatant adaptations and don't try to hide the source material. What Writing Excuses suggests is not to adapt a familiar work, but to use the building blocks provided to make something new. (I feel redundant, suddenly.)
I feel like this is a Good Idea, and something I'm willing to do, or at least try. However, I think you can only do this so many times before somebody is going to start recognizing some similarities between your "original" stories and fairy tales. Of course, I'm not suggesting on using this "technique" as a means of cheating your way into a creative work. The requirement to build a comprehensive set of characters and a unique world is still there - you're just borrowing basic story structure.
I think it's worth trying out for a few stories; my specific idea in this case is to try my best to mask the original fairy tale and make a game out of it. Can you identify the story I've used as a base? This would be sort of a challenge to see how creative you can get to make a new story, while retaining just enough of the source material to allow readers to make an educated guess. The goal is to fool, but give them just enough that someone paying close attention can identify the building blocks.
This is something I'll have to work on come September.
Oh, on a related note, through all of this I found a book I'd really like to read: Snow White, Blood Red. And I really think I'm going to have to pull out all my mythology books and borrow some good old Joseph Campbell from the library.
* - I was thinking about going with O Brother, Where Art Thou? but I wasn't sure if that was really a blatant adaptation of The Odyssey - however, it does support my idea of taking a source material and drastically changing it.