At our recent steering group meeting our Chair, Prof Melissa Terras, noted that the index cards I shared in the post on Alan Bruford’s Tale Types make great writing prompts. This immediately cast me back to my Am-Dram days, when our director would ask us to pick a number and assign us whichever ATU tale type that corresponded, to create a short play with. This is a really useful tool for creativity and I thought I would share some Tale types and a few examples from the card index, which you may wish to explore.

These index cards summaries one part of a recording, or a manuscript in the SSSA collections. Often they are just the most brief description of the tale and other cards go into more detail.

ATU 1696

“What Should I have Said…?”

Card reads The lad seeking a wife. A widow tried to advise her stupid son on what to say to a chosen girl. Each time he visited the girl he misinterpreted his mother's instructions"

You can read this above version of this tale type in our Maclagan collection, via the OpenBooks platform (page 11, MML2389).


ATU 470a

The Offended Skull

The card reads " Skull asked to wedding. Young man going to church to arrange wedding sees opened grave, skull on ground, invites it to wedding; it says a verse. That night called to door from party, taken around corner and never seen again. When his house is in ruins 100 years later he calls on the old woman next door. Takes whisky before tea and crumbles to dust on the floor"

This tale is also available to listen to online and there is a much clearer summary of the tale on Tobar an Dualchais:

Tom Robertson told Alan Bruford that this tale was his grandmother’s story.


ATU 510

Cinderella , Cap of Rushes

card reads "Rashie Coat, from Fife. Heroine leave home to avoid unwanted suitor, not father, self or stepmother; gets wonderful clothes as pre-condition for accepting him"

This is not from recording or a manuscript in SSSA, but I have to say that the way that the summary is written made it stand out to me. There are thousands of variants of Cinderella and many examples in the Tale Archive, including Essie Pattle, the Shetland variant. You can listen to T A Robertson read the story of Essie Pattle (SA1972.238.B1) in Shetland dialect here:


Supernatural Witch Tales

Bewitched Dancing

card reads: Alasdair nan cleas asked woman for drink of milk. She refused. He made her dance an endless dance. Still dancing when husband came home. He told her to send for Alasdair, offer him a drink of oatmeal and water and apologise. when finished drinking, woman's dance finally came to an end

This is one of the tale types devised by Alan Bruford for classifying Witch Tales. This tale appears in Calum MacLean’s notebooks, collected from Roy Bridge, and is a story of Alasdair nan Cleas – Alasdair of the Tricks – who was Keppoch Clan Chief and thought to be a sorcerer. There is a great blog about this tale over on the Calum MacLean Project blog:


ATU 1137

Tales of the Stupid Ogre / Self Did It

card reads "Fairy suitor scalded with pot of black puddings"

These types of tales have origins in the story of Odysseus and the Cyclops.

ATU 1452 

Choosing a Wife

card reads "choosing a wife" Rich man with 2 sweethearts  - to choose one he would marry asked both to make porridge from basket of shavings. Rich one threw all the shavings in at once and they caught light. Poor girl put shavings in little by little and got the rich man for her husband"

The above tale, told by Lucy Stewart (SA1960.167.A12). is a variant of a type of bride tests tale which includes stories which feature the selection of a wife on how she cuts cheese! You can listen to this recording via the SSSA material on Tobar an Dualchais:



ATU 1408

The Foolish Husband & His Wife / The The man who does his wife’s work

card reads "The man who thinks he can di his wife's work is less time finds he cannot

Angus MacLellan told the story of a crofter who thought his wife was useless, until she asked him to swap places with him. The recording is on Tobar an Dualchais, with a summary in English.

We also have a version of this in Maclagan, from Islay, MML 2386


Romantic Tales: The Lad and his Dream

card reads "the lad and his dream" Young man from Skye when in search of the beautiful girl he had seen and married in a dream. When he found her she had the same dream but was arranged to marry another. They made a plan to marry with the girl veiled and were married one hour before her intended wedding

Ending with a take from the Romantic Tales Index here at SSSA – two strangers dream of one another and set off to find the other!


If you feel inclined to use any of these prompts, we would love to see your work!