Writing A Fairy Tale

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You never know what is going to be placed in front of you when my critique group meets. We have picture book authors, fiction, nonfiction, and periodicals. We also cover a wide range of topics.

This time someone brought a modern fairy tale retelling. I vaguely remembered that when you retell a fairy tale you need to remember to retain what it is really about. But is that all it takes? So I started reading up on the essential elements of a fairy tale.

Hero or Heroine

I used this term instead of point-of-view character because really? The main character of a fairy tale is often a true hero. They overcome something terrifying like a wicked witch, a cannibalistic witch, or a cannibalistic giant. Hmm. That’s kind of a creepy grouping, but I thought of Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, and Jack and the Beanstalk. Kingdoms are saved, the seasons are restored, curses are broken.


I’ve already mentioned this must-have although I haven’t yet used this term but fairy tales often have villains. This is the person, or entity, who has brought darkness, evil, or fear to everyone’s lives. They must be stopped!


As with the majority of stories, there is conflict and there is a resolution. It may take a while to get to the central conflict, as when Hansel and Gretel meet the witch, but you do get there.


Fairy tales have morals. Face it – the traditional tales were told aloud and were used as teaching tools. The moral might be “don’t be greedy” or it could be “treat other people well.” I’m not saying that you need to write it out right before the end . . . all of the villagers learned that when . . . but it does need to be there.

Speculative Element

Most everything I saw online said that you need to include magic. But if you’ve read Cinder by Marissa Meyer you know that science is behind 90% of what would be magic in a traditional tale. But it works because it gives the story a strong “otherness.” Science or magic, you need to have that otherworldly quality.

Happy Ending?

Another element that the other posts called for was a happy ending but . . . I’m thinking the Little Match Girl. Is that a happy ending? She freezes to death but she ends up with her grandmother in the afterlife. Let’s just say that it needs to have a satisfying ending

So when you adapt a story, it may not need all of the same elements as the original but it will need these elements to feel like a fairy tale. Is that important? It will depend entirely on the story you are writing.


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