How to write a Fairy Tale

First, recognize that there is nothing fairy about a Fairy Tale. Our forbears came up with this term because before Disney, fairies were terrifying. They were the bump in the night, the terrors of the unknown, the font of darkness. Fairy tales are meant as cautions; to guide and control. They are a social construct and if done well they are the truly timeless tales – told and told again, maturing and altering over time. Fairy tale archetypes form the base of every character we write and the classic versions of them are modified for every generation.

You will be hard pressed to find any modern book, movie, tv show or broadcast where you cannot find a comparable fairy tale that is their progenitor. These stories form a cultural base that transcends generations.

“And the moral of the story is” is a common thing because yeah, these were most often tales told to teach or impress moral values.

Second, write a fairy tale.

It’s not hard. These are some of the very most basic elements of storytelling. About all you need are:
1) What is the moral lesson?
2a) How horrifically can I show somebody failing to learn that lesson? /or
2b) How cleverly can my protagonist outwit the test?

Note that those are the only real options available. Learn the lesson through failure (and usually a grisly end), or figure out the lesson and use it to outwit the antagonist. Somebody has to lose. The lesson/moral always wins.

I’m particularly fond of taking modern tales and converting them into fairy tales. The Monster Under the Bed. Bloody Mary. The bloodier the tale, the easier it is to convert. Fairy tales are brutal. Hmmm… This should probably have been a number. Okay: Third. Fairy tales are brutal because they were socially imperative messages meant to stick. Don’t lie. Don’t cheat. Don’t steal. Don’t kill. See a pattern here? Fairy tales teach things critical to the function and wellbeing of social groupings.

Look Fourth on modern fairy tales. Take any modern horror and you will probably see one. For example, last night (this morning? forgot to go to bed, sorry) I converted the Bloody Mary myth. All I had to do was change the POV to Mary. Suddenly it’s a cautionary tale against adultery instead of an unsourced horror in the mirror.

Modern horror movies are our fairy tales. So do the above with any horror movie. Most of them were intended for it. Some examples:

Slender Man: Stranger danger
Jason Vorhees: Adultery (initially)
Alien: Rape
Final Destination: Fate v choice
Jigsaw: Purgatory
Freddy Kruger: Masturbation (initially)
The Others: Adultery. Again. There are a lot about adultery. Sex sells.

Fourth, get religious. Okay, that’s not actually necessary. But look at religions. In Western culture almost all of our fairy tales tie to bibilical or primary European pagan beliefs, because that’s what we have carried from generation to generation. It’s the same in the East, North and South. The Christian Bible is a massive field of ready to convert fairy tales. So are the works of every other religion, and for the very same reasons.

Hit wikipedia. Look up an obscure religion and migrate a myth to New York City’s Central Park. Voila. Modern fairy tale. And possibly a Hollywood blockbuster. Hollywood loves Central Park.

Magnum Opus Idea: Convert King James to fairy tales. Win all the money.

Fifth, stop with the happy endings! Unless it is ironic or promotes a DIFFERENT moral lesson than the expected one a happy ending destroys the intent of the tale. Fairy tales are supposed to be scary so they stick with you and are memorable. Fairy tales are the rod we use to literaturally* beat morals into the next generation. Happy endings don’t stick. Or rod. We were using rod before, right? I’m losing my metaphor here.

Anywho, stop with Disney** endings is what I’m saying. That only works for the princess crowd, which is an entirely different audience from the fairy tale crowd.

So go write one. They are short and exceptionally fulfilling. And everybody lives happily ever after, right?


But that’s okay because it is what makes them work.

* Literaturally – (wordified) Accomplished using the written word.
** Disney puts out great stories, the last fairy tale they made was Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

[Post cleaned up 11/14]


4 thoughts on “How to write a Fairy Tale

  1. This is a great post!

    A little while ago I got it into my head to write a novel about Slenderman, but apparently the Swedish guy who “created” it is holding onto the copyright (and from what I’ve read, not afraid to get litigious). There’s also an anonymous third party who has bought some of the rights to it (a.k.a probably the real slenderman).

    I wonder if a “true story” fairytale about an author who tries to write such a novel and gets killed by slenderman after a vicious legal battle with the tall guy himself would be caught by copyright?


  2. Sort of related. Sort of… I’m not a parent, nevertheless since most people do have children, I have plenty of friends who are parents. That being the case, it is inevitable that once in a while, Aunite Meg is asked to babysit. I pull out my Grandmother’s compilation of The ORIGINAL Grimm’s Fairy Tales to read to one small person in my charge, not realizing that eyes get gouged out by birds, hands get cut off and children are boiled for dinner! I never knew!!! All I’d ever heard were the Disney-fied versions! Holy…! I had to edit on the fly as I was reading. And, uh, go back and read the rest of them on my own! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s