How To Write A Fairy Tale That Enchants Your Readers – Jericho Writers
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How To Write A Fairy Tale That Enchants Your Readers

How To Write A Fairy Tale That Enchants Your Readers

Once Upon A Time…  

We all recognise a fairy tale when we see one, characterised by wondrous settings, fantastical creatures and morals or life lessons. With traditional roots, fairy tales have become embedded in our culture and are often the first thing a child will read, listen to or consume. It seems that, plot-wise, almost anything goes in a magical fairy tale book – so how do we define the genre?  

In this article we’ll be exploring what a fairy tale is, modern retellings, and how to write your own fairy tale that will stand the test of time.

Let’s dive in. Once upon a time…

What Is A Fairy Tale? 

Circulated by the quintessential Tales of Olden Times by Charles Perrault (1697) and most recognisably Grimm Brothers’ Children’s and Household Tales (1812–57), most traditional and famous fairy tales (such as Snow White, Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin) were told and re-told through oral tradition, belonging to the mystical realm of folklore and folk tales. Because of this, most fairy tales don’t ‘belong’ to anyone and have been re-told and adapted countless times (think Disney). Fairy tales also don’t have to be written down to be legitimate and continue to be told all over the world, including The Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus and The Bogeyman. Typically aimed at and written for children, fairy tales continue to enchant all over the world and soundtrack and capture the never-ending possibility and magic of childhood.  

When writing a fairy tale and transporting readers to fairy tale settings, there are no specific ‘rules’ to adhere to plot-wise, however, there are certain conventions and features of a fairy tale that make them so iconic and notoriously recognisable.  

These are:  

  • A short narrative.  
  • The ‘once upon a time’ opening coupled with the ‘… and they lived happily ever after’ ending. 
  • Character tropes, in which there are usually categorised ‘the good’, ‘the bad’ and ‘the evil’. Fairy tales also often include but are not limited to the following characters: royalty; princesses and princes (usually the protagonists); villains; supernatural relatives (e.g. a fairy godmother); supernatural ‘helpers’ such as Puss In Boots; archetypes such as ‘The Evil Stepmother’ or guardian; talking animals; fantastical creatures such as dragons; magical or talking household items (think Beauty and the Beast); and transformative objects (e.g the pumpkin that turns into a horse-and-cart in Cinderella).  
  • Mystical and fantastical lands and settings such as castles, a gingerbread house, the woods, and The Land of Far-Far Away.  
  • The importance and significance of the numbers three and seven – think The Seven Dwarves, The Three Bears, Three Genie Wishes and the Three Blind Mice. 
  • In between the tumultuous beginning and the happy ending, the protagonist usually overcomes difficulty (good triumphs evil) and this contains the moral of the story (although it’s important to note that these aren’t the focal point of the story, unlike Fables); this could be rags-to-riches (like in Cinderella), a quest to overcome a wicked spell (as in Sleeping Beauty) or overcoming central conflict.  

Modern Retellings

Though they are such an integral part of our literary history and culture, fairy tales are often criticised for upholding out-dated, sexist patriarchal values, such as the idea that a beautiful princess may only have her happily ever after when she is ‘saved’ by her dashing, masculine prince.  

In recent years, many authors have taken to retelling these fairy tales in a contemporary or feminist way, subverting the traditional norms and stereotypes. Fairy tale retellings are perhaps the most common format of fairy tales that are currently released.  

Famous examples include Duckling by Kamila Shamsie, a take on The Ugly Duckling where the unique duckling finds the right to celebrate being different and Nikita Gill’s Fierce Fairy Tales: & Other Stories to Stir You Soul, where Sleeping Beauty wakes up on her own accord and Tinkerbell quits anger management. Taking this further, there are even gender-bent retellings, such as Sleeping Handsome and the Princess Engineer by Kay Woodward.  

fairy-tale-story

How To Write Your Fairy Tale Story 

Many of us grew up reading, watching, and playing games about fairy tales. But reading them is different to writing them. Here are some key things to include. 

Choose Your Fairy Tale Moral

The moral of your fairy tale is one of the most important parts. Your characters and settings, plot and conflict, all draw from your chosen moral. A moral is built upon from the very start of a fairy tale. As an example, the moral of Peter Pan is that we all have to grow up sometime, and though it can be difficult, there are wonderful things about it too. Think about a message which is important to you, and that you would like to share in your fairy tale. Remember, that your audience is predominantly children, so it needs to be clear and understandable. 

Create Your Characters

If you have a good understanding of what you want your characters to be like (particularly the hero/protagonist and the villain/antagonist) much of your fairy tale story will take shape from there.  

Hero/Heroine

Your hero/heroine must be relatable and they are often someone readers feel sympathy for. Fairy tale protagonists are often kind, hard-working, and underappreciated. Though these are important characteristics, you may want your hero/heroine to stand out a little more. Maybe they’re incredibly compassionate, and they show that by fiercely standing up for those who are wronged. Regardless, you need to make sure that your main character is so compelling that the reader is rooting for them throughout your fairy tale. 

Villain

Though villains are the characters we dislike in fairy tales, they can be very fun to write! They prevent the hero/heroine from achieving their goals, and often test the protagonist’s abilities. Villains tend to be unpredictable, giving you the opportunity to surprise your reader, which is crucial if you want to engage them, as the structure of fairy tales is quite formulaic.  

Consider Your Conflict

All fairy tales (and stories/creative writing in general) need to have some degree of conflict in order to keep the reader’s interest. Fairy tales are often rife with external conflict, which is particularly evident whenever the protagonist and antagonist are in a room together. You can also include inner conflict too. Perhaps your hero/heroine made a mistake in the past, and dwelling on it is preventing them from progressing or overcoming external obstacles. Or maybe they’re grieving the loss of a loved one and wondering whether they’d agree with the decisions they’re making in their life. Your conflict should be set up so that, once it has been inevitably overcome, your previously chosen moral is made blatantly clear.  

Hone In On Your Happy Ending

No fairy tale is complete without a happy ending. In order to reach it, you need to decide how you want to resolve your conflict. Consider the outcomes you want for your characters. Is your villain vanquished, or are they now redeemable? Does your hero/heroine create a new life somewhere else, or do they now rule the palace and lead the people of the city? Jot down your ideas and remember that you can always change your mind later. When it comes to a fairy tale ending, there is no such thing as too much exaggeration; it’s a crucial part of their charm. So, bathe your protagonist in joy and splendour, and watch as your villain is punished for their cruelty. 

Decide On Your Settings

Settings in fairy tales are often used to hint at the protagonist’s mood, foreshadow things to come, or indicate the character of the inhabitants of a building. Often, bright cottages and sunny days suggest that the hero/heroine is happy and the people who live in the cottage are good. While villains tend to live in caves or deep in the forests, and it often rains after the protagonist has failed a conquest. You may want to establish the town/village your hero/heroine lives in, what their house (or mansion, or palace, or treehouse) looks like, and where your villain lives. This gives you a good place to start, and you can then build the rest of your settings around them. It’s also important to decide when you want to set your fairy tale (modern day, the 19th century, the future) as this will influence everything from your character’s speech, to how they’re clothed, and the kind of moral that will suit the story. 

Sprinkle In Some Magic

The magic element of fairy tales is what makes them so whimsical and appealing to the active imaginations of children. This is your opportunity to use your imagination as much as you want. Consider the things you fantasised about as a child (maybe you wanted a talking cat) or things you would find useful (like a doorway which acts as a portal to wherever you want to go). Have fun with it, and experiment with different fairy tale ideas. It’s often magic which gives the hero/heroine the last push they need that helps them save the day! So the inclusion of magic is as playful as it is important to the storyline. 

Fairy Tale Prompts/Retellings 

So, you know what a fairy tale is, and how to write one. But where do you start? Worry no more, because we have a list of prompts that will give you the inspiration you need to get writing. 

  • You’re a young member of a prestigious royal family that was cursed by a young wizard-in-training. The wizard intended to curse you so that everyone you touch is severely burned, but they made an error, and now you can heal people instead. You find yourself with a special power, and an even angrier enemy. So what do you do now? 
  • What happens when all the plants come alive at night, including the ones indoors? 
  • Her favourite animal is a unicorn, so when she stumbles upon one on a fine sunny morning, she’s sure she’s still dreaming. Until her mum asks why there’s a huge gap in the rose bush and hoof prints in the back garden.
  • It’s Christmas. You’re made of gingerbread. How do you avoid getting eaten at the most terrifying time of the year?
  • There’s always been a beautiful arched door tucked in the back corner of the kitchen. It’s old and hasn’t opened for decades. Then one night, Noah goes to get a glass of water and finds it wide open.  
  • Imagine you are your favourite fairy tale character. How would you change the story to make things better?
  • You’re a fairy who strays a little too far from home. You’re mistaken for a butterfly and placed in an exhibit. How will you escape? 
  • They all assumed that the person in the prophesy who was destined to save the town from the evil wizard’s curse was a boy. She proved them wrong.  
  • Snow White eats the apple. A red toffee apple. The evil queen gasps as she realises what she just had for lunch.  
  • She gets lost in the forest, and the deeper into it she goes, the more the animals talk to her. When she returns the next day, the same thing happens. But her pet cats and the animals in the garden don’t say anything at all. 
  • Ten-year-old Harper always talks about the robin which follows her home and keeps her safe. Once, it led the way when she got lost. No one believes her. But it turns out, the robin is her older sister Rosalie.  
  • He could swim before he could walk. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s part merman.  
  • Her horse-riding lessons are going well. Until she realises that she’s flying, and her horse is watching from the ground below.  
  • He delivered a box of brand-new shoes to the palace, but accidentally dropped one on the front steps. Now the prince claims he will marry whoever the shoe fits. Should he admit his mistake? 
  • Peter Pan is the boy who never grew up. But something strange is happening in Neverland. He wakes up one morning… with a beard! Is he finally growing up? 

Find Your Own Happily Ever After 

Whether wanting to find out more about fairy tales, learn how to write one, or you’ve been searching for help to get started, I hope in this article you’ve found the guidance you’re looking for.

Just remember that fairy tales are supposed to be fun! For writers and readers alike. So use your boundless imagination, take storytelling risks, and connect with your childhood self and you’ll live happily ever after!


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