Writing Fairy Tales

If you stopped by last week, you know that fairy tales are public domain, but you may be wondering where to start as you work on your own fairy tale. My suggestion is to start at the beginning, with some of the original tales. As you read them, you’ll find that they have different elements.

Reading Fairy Tales

For instance, if you were considering a version of “Rapunzel” (like the newest Disney princess movie, “Tangled”), then you could start by reading the version by The Brothers Grimm. Hans Christian Andersen and the Grimm Brothers have some overlapping tales, but most are different. One of my favorite sites to visit is Sur La Lune Fairy Tales because it gives you the version that we’re most familiar with and many of the other versions. When I wrote my retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” I read at least nine different versions of the story. (In one, the Beast is a snake and that sometimes still gives me nightmares.) You can also check out the Big Blue Book of Fairy Tales.

Please note that some of these versions are much darker than they Disney versions a lot of people love. For instance, in one of the original versions of “Rapunzel”, the Prince ends up a blind beggar for years.

Own Your Fairy Tale Retelling

Your fairy tale should be yours. There may be elements of some of the earlier tales, or some of the other stories floating around, but it should also belong uniquely to you. There are countless ways to do this, from creating a unique setting or making a previously unsympathetic character sympathetic or making a character who is traditionally “the good guy” bad.

Decide on your main character

In Rapunzel, is it Rapunzel? Is it the witch? Is it the Prince?

Create a Setting

I prefer non-contemporary fairy tale settings for my own writing, with a large dose of fantasy. But I do like to read and watch contemporary fairy tales. Determining your setting can determine the shape of the tale.

For instance, Rapunzel in 2012 or 2020 (or whenever) is going to think and behave differently than Rapunzel in 1750. She’ll have different worldviews and values. Today, she might have a Facebook account, an email address and the tower could be the Water Tower Place in Chicago.

Determine what’s really going on

Is “the witch” Rapunzel’s mother and she’s been grounded? Is it more like the traditional tale, where Rapunzel’s parents give her away in exchange for an herb? Does the witch/main character/whatever you name her think that she’s doing Rapunzel a favor by not letting parents who have stolen and are clearly of low means raise a child? How does the Prince discover her? Is he not a prince? Maybe he’s a runaway, or a soldier? Or maybe, like in the Disney version, Rapunzel was stolen, but your twist is that the King and Queen have offered an award and your MC (a neighboring prince, a poor beggar, a soldier, a runaway, a knight, or what have you), finds a clue after however many years.

Maybe Rapunzel is a witch who’s on the verge of destroying the world and the tower is the only thing that can keep the world safe. Someone sees her long, beautiful hair, pities her, and lets her out. Now what?

Address the problems

We all know that if it’s smooth sailing, there’s no story. What are some of the problems your characters face?

For instance, how does the witch hide Rapunzel? Does Rapunzel ever try to escape? Why is she in the tower in the first place? Did she wander up there?

When she’s found, what are some of the problems of getting her down? Does the witch/caretaker stand in the way? What does that person do? Or, what if Rapunzel doesn’t want to go? What if she loves her tower and wants to stay there? How does your character convince her to leave?

Conclude your story

Does your story end with happily ever after? What does that look like for your novel? What happens to the other, “bad” characters?

You can end your story the way the original tale ends (with your unique twist, of course), or you can end it completely different. For instance, did you know that the Hans Christian Andersen version of “The Little Mermaid” ends with her becoming sea froth (or sometimes a “being of air”) because she couldn’t get the prince to marry her (he married someone else) and she couldn’t bring herself to kill him?

Another Way to Tell Your Tale: Many Tales in One

Fractured fairy tales are another way to tell your tale. Think “Shrek.” The Shrek movies are a hodge podge of different stories that are all melded into one, larger story. You can do that, too. An amazing recent example of this in book form is Alethea Kontis’ “Enchanted.”

Your story should be original, with unique twists and different elements that only you can bring to it, because of your individual experiences, interests and ideas. Whether you tell a long tale or a short tale, you can bring these old tales to life.

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  1. Good discussion. I wrote a short story which is a takeoff on :Oscar Wilde’s “The Nightingale and the Rose.” It’s titled, “The Nightingale, The Good Man, and The Witch With The Heart of Purest Diamond.” Translated the story into the 21st century, added a little sex, violence, heartbreak and tragedy. And Willie Nelson. If anybody is curious, just email me and I’ll shoot you a copy. I should be sending it out to mags, but life is short, I’m writing novels and a lot of stories will never see the light of day. So if anybody wants to read it, just let me know.

    • Hi William!
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting! You should submit your short story(ies) to competitions. SPLICKETY Magazine has been looking for shorts. (Although I doubt they’d approve of the sex part.) Are you teen? I’m always looking to share stories written by teens on Fridays. It’s called FAN FRIDAY’s and I’m THEIR fan.Get the WRITER’S Market book to see who is looking for your genre (and word length) of shorts. Take time to do it. It’ll be worth it.

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