How to Write a Fairytale
I’m obsessed with fairytales.
That’s because I’m writing my own right now, so they’re filling my head: Disney, Grimm, Arabian Nights.
I always put a twist on the original. So far I have a sleeping beast, a Charming Ball, a fairy godfather … and many more.
Right now I’m writing a take on the 12 Dancing Princesses. In my most recent story, Hayley, aged 6, goes to a princess party. Quite suddenly Hayley, the rest of the party, and the entire party building disappears. Or has it? Her father, a soldier in a specialist unit, sets out to find her.
Fairy tales are surprisingly easy to write. This post shows you why fairytales make good stories, and how you can use their strengths to craft your own.
3 Reasons Why Fairytales Make Fantastic Story Starting-Points:
1. They have strong character archetypes:
The hero (or heroine) is attractive: Snow White and Cinderella are beautiful; Ali-Baba is clever; Jack the giant-killer is strong.
The bad characters are altogether evil. Snow-white’s stepmother isn’t just vain and jealous; she’s also murderous.
2. They have the classic hero’s journey plot structure:
This plot structure is like the Ultimate Guide to Great Storywriting. It’s the plot structure used by screenwriters — why? Because it works. More on that below.
3. The themes are powerful:
The obstacles tap into deeply held terrors. Hansel and Gretel are small children, lost in a forest. Cinderella loses her mother.
The drama is intense and often horrific. Hansel and Gretel burn an old woman alive. The Little Mermaid walks on knife blades. Snow-white’s stepmother wants her heart.
4. Optional extras
Original folk tales (that is, the stories that fairytales came from) were frequently bawdy. In today’s world of political correctness we’ve lost that part of the story, but one version of Sleeping Beauty has the sleeping heroine being raped by the prince. In Arabian Nights a prince marries a virgin each day and beheads her the next.
Fairy tales used to contain barbaric violence. Cinderella’s step sisters chop off their toes to squeeze their foot into the glass shoe (the prince notices the fraud when their blood seeps out).
The Hero’s Journey
Here’s a short summary of the classic hero’s journey plot structure, and how this is used in fairytales:
- A likeable hero (or heroine).
- The hero has a Goal: Cinderella wants to go to the ball. Sleeping Beauty wants to avoid a curse.
- He faces MONUMENTAL obstacles: Jack doesn’t just fight an ogre; he fights an evil, man-eating, giant ogre.
- He encounters set-backs: Cinderella gets to the ball, only to have to run away at the stroke of midnight.
- He has to overcome a final, almost overwhelming obstacle: Hansel escapes from the cage, only to be caught by the evil witch.
- He must overcome his/her internal demons: Cinderella gains the courage to defy her evil stepmother and set her foot in the glass slipper
How to write a fairytale
You can start by a small change, like the setting. Put Cinderella in the present day, for example, and then all of a sudden you’ve got The Bachelor on steroids. Kiera Cass did this very successfully, in The Selection.
You could change the hero’s gender (I did this once, and made Cinderella a man, and called her Cynders).
You can play with the technology of the tale, and what it means. Marissa Meyer did this really well in her Lunar Chronicles series. In Beauty is a Subjective Term, my Snow White retelling, a mirror needed reprogramming. Because what does ‘fair’ really mean?
But the best way is to change a fairytale is to consider the motivation of the character.
For example, Cinderella. In Ten Minutes to Go, Cinderella is no longer interested in the prince; she’s interested in his prince’s money. And so, in Ten Minutes to Go, Cinderella was a contract killer with a deadline of midnight.
So if you want to write your own fairytale, first think of the story. Think about the characters. Change their names if you want to; their gender; their setting. But most importantly, consider what they want to achieve.
And really, that’s how you write any story. The fairy tale is just a scaffold that, fortunately, usually leads to a bloody good story.
If you want to read some other examples of fairytale retellings, check out this blog post here. And if you want to read my stories that are mentioned above, you can download them for free here. And now, what are you waiting for? Go away and write your own!