How to write a fairy tale


24 February 2022
Top tips for writers wanting to create their own fairy tale stories

Once Upon a Time…

It’s ‘Tell a Fairy Tale Day’ on February 26th – the perfect time to have a go at writing your own fairy tale, or to look at fairy tales as inspiration for the novel you are currently penning – or one you haven’t started yet!

Whether you want to have a go at telling your own fairy tale, or use fairy tales as inspiration for a bigger novel, here are some top tips to get you started. It begins, quite simply, with a story idea, and that story idea might begin with 'once upon a time'…

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1. An extreme situation

When it comes to fairy tales, think ‘extreme’. Consider setting your fairy tale in an extreme landscape – real or fictional, such as under the sea in The Little Mermaid – or having an extreme dilemma at its core (think Wendy and Peter in Neverland). Create extreme conflict between the ‘goodie’ and the ‘baddie’ (Cinderella versus evil stepmother), or put your hero in extreme danger – Snow White or Sleeping Beauty in eternal sleep, or Little Red Riding Hood about to get eaten by the wolf…

2.  Magic!

An element of magic is important for creating a fantastic fairy tale. You are writing a tale of transformation, a story powered by the semi-divine, superhuman, or magical qualities of a character or event in the book. This magic can be literal – a talking wolf, a witch, a fairy godmother – or perpetrated by you, the author, by using sleight of hand to misdirect the reader. Think of your favourite novel; chances are, the author has played a ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ type trick to conceal or reveal information at the most dramatic time, and this is a form of ‘magic’ too…  

3. Walk in my shoes…

For any piece of fiction, but for fairy tales in particular, we need to be able to walk in the hero’s shoes. We see through the character’s eyes, we touch what they touch, eat what they eat, sleep when they sleep. From the outset, we lose ourselves in the netherworld of another human life. It is the ultimate vacation or voluntary absence, a guided dreaming. Try to create an immersive experience for the reader when penning your fairy tale – thus creating the characters that will stand the test of time.

4. Conflict between good and evil

Often, in standard novels, we see the war within and also without, and the novel is driven by the main character’s ability to incorporate the ‘other’ or that which seems at the outset of the story to be in opposition to himself or herself. In a fairy tale, the threat of evil is located outside the self, yet within the safe sealed environment bound by front and back cover. This is especially important for children. Evil is given a physical form, brimful of intent to destroy all that is ‘decent’. Evil should be introduced with the fanfare of awe and dread, something which only a hero has the courage to face alone. This battle between good and evil – and often the hope and satisfaction that evil can be overcome – is part of what makes fairy tales so popular. We can blame a thing for evil deeds, and it is less messy or complicated than the evil we face in our day-to-day lives.

5. Lesson learned

‘When we get to the end of the story, you will know more than you do now...’ (The Snow Queen, Hans Christian Andersen). At the end of the fairy tale, there should be a satisfying ending, and both the reader and protagonist should have learned something. The protagonist will often be rewarded with what they need (not necessarily what they wanted at the start of the story), and the reader will feel satisfied that good has triumphed over evil. Along the way, your hero may have learned some kind of lesson – think Goldilocks and the Three Bears, or Hansel and Gretel.

6. Your unique perspective

Bring yourself to your fairy tale! A storyteller works with the things that trouble them to resolve their darkest predicament and put out a cry to the universe for help. Start with your fears and bring them to light, and don’t be afraid to dig deep. Be yourself when working on your story – only more so…

7. If in doubt, borrow!

A story does not have to be truly original to work – in fact, most of the best authors borrow elements from great stories that have come before. You can use classic fairy tales for inspiration for any novel – whether romance or crime – but even if you want to write a brand-new fairy tale, it’s ok to find inspiration from stories that already exist. And if your aim is to one day be a published author, then know that publishers and literary agents are always asking for ‘the same, but different!’ – so take a well-known story and put your own, unique spin on it. Good luck!

The Novelry loves fairy tales, and has a whole course – The Classic Course – that takes writers back to the first stories they loved, including fairy tales, as well as some of the biggest and bestselling books of all time. It looks at the secret ingredients of these classic stories and inspires writers to dig deep for a bold story idea of their own. In darkest times, fairy tales hold great power and can offer us a way to fight evil in our stories, which we might not be able to do in real life. This is why they’re so satisfying to read – and to write!

For more information about The Novelry, click here.

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