Write Your Own Fairytale

cover of Grimm's book

Day Ten – Have you picked up a pen?

Once upon a time, the first stories we learned were fairytales read or told to us, by our parents or grandparents.

  • How many fairytales can you remember?
  • Why do you think fairytales are popular?

Many people will only know the Disney version of the tales but now you have some time to read, try researching some of the original fairytales and gathering ideas to write your own!

The most famous collection is the folklore gathered by the Brothers Grimm (and yes the jokes made about their German name are true because some of the tales are grim!).

Read the original Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Rumpelstiltskin, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel and The Elves and the Shoemaker.

I waited until my daughters were teenagers and interested in knowing the origins of many Disneyfied tales before buying them The Complete Fairy Tales.

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However, Charles Perrault also wrote fairytales based on old French folk tales (thank him for Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty and Puss in Boots) and Hans Christian Andersen did something similar before writing original stories. (You may know The Little Mermaid, The Little Match Girl, Thumbelina, The Ugly Duckling, and The Princess and the Pea amongst others.)

Much of the writings of these literary figures is still read today or adapted for short stories, novels, poetry and film.

Fairy tales continue to inspire writers, with new versions appearing each year,  in print, film and television. Some adaptations are aimed at children, but many are made for adults and focus on the genre’s dark roots.

sculpture with icicles toronto

Some of my popular lessons are based around rewriting fairytales and examining why they are so popular – even among today’s technologically savvy kids – and working out what we can learn about the tools involved in the craft of writing such as structure, theme, plot, characterisation and setting.

What can we learn from fairytales regarding story structure and character development?

book of fairytales

Let’s deconstruct the well-known tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. This tale, like Jack and the Beanstalk, is a British fairy tale.

  • List of main characters:
    Goldilocks (protagonist)
    Papa Bear
    Mama Bear
    Baby Bear

What are the aims and obstacles the main character has to overcome?

  1. She is hungry – finds steamy porridge – one is too hot, the other too salty – small bowl just right and she eats it up.
  2. Her feet are sore and she needs rest – one chair too hard, other too soft, a small one just right, but chair breaks.
  3. She is tired – goes upstairs to find a bed – one too high, other too low, the cot just right.
  4. She falls asleep and dreams.
  5. The Bear family comes home after being for a walk to let their porridge cool down and discover: the porridge is eaten, a chair broke, and Goldilocks in bed asleep.
  6. Goldilocks wakes up, gets frightened and runs away. She escapes into wood and heads home.
  7. When she hears mother’s voice, she knows she is safe.

toronto childcare

Most folk tales and fairy tales started off as oral stories told around campfires, kitchen tables or at bedtime in the years when the general population couldn’t read or write.

Many were cautionary tales with a strong moral tone influenced by society’s power structures to instil cultural norms dictated by the aristocracy and religious rulers.

They are populated with people who are evil (sometimes not even human), bad or just stupid.  Inevitably,  good triumphs over evil, the bad learn to behave or are punished and often the stupid learn to be wise.

The religious overtones are obvious and reflect the power of the church. A lot of  the fairy tales teach a version of the lesson ‘be careful who you make deals or bargains with,’ probably a reference to the Faustian ‘making deals with the devil.’

There are the all-important conflict and obstacles to overcome and the character transformation required to satisfy creative writing norms, plus the invariable ‘happy ending’, or promise of hope most readers expect.

Goldilocks and The Three Bears message, apart from warning of the dangers of ‘the woods’ (a common trope and setting for fairytales) is teaching respect for the property of others and the importance of manners. I did say it had British origins:)

gardenworld girl with book

The Importance of Storytelling

  1. Stories unite people. When we share stories we take a step towards understanding and tolerance. Check out folk tales, myths and legends from other countries. Google or visit your local library. You’ll be surprised how many of the stories will be familiar with similar messages – Cinderella-type stories (we know the Perrault version) appears in several cultures.

hindu temple  2. Stories help us make sense of the world around us by explaining natural phenomena. Aboriginal Dreamtime stories are an amazing must-read.

  1. Stories help to keep our culture, history and traditions alive because narratives fascinate us whether in a dramatic performance, a book, or on-screen or over the radio.

fairytale park russia 1

  1. Stories entertain. All cultures create worlds of dreams and pretence.

fairytale cake

  1. Stories can help us understand the adult world before facing it and help us work through trauma in the real world.
  2. Passing stories down through generations is one way of maintaining cultural roots and sharing experience, and ensuring history isn’t lost.

3 wise monkeys russia

The setting is an important part of any fairy tale. The tone of the story is set in the way the setting is described.

As mentioned, many fairytales are set in forests or the woods – they often appear dark, unfriendly places. Places that hide goblins, trolls, wolves, witches, wicked queens or hags and huntsmen.

Then it may move to a castle or palace. There is always a contrast between grandeur and simple cottages and/or impoverished villages.

Anything can happen in the land of make-believe, it is a magical place.

Usually, a hero emerges to save the day, there is often a damsel in distress to be rescued and loved, and creatures can be friendly or unfriendly.

  • Several elements identify stories as part of the genre of fairy tales but for most of us it is the special beginning and/or ending words – Once upon a time…and they lived happily ever after.
  • Things often happen in threes and sevens (check it out here! and here)

(Is this why our PM, Scotty from Marketing devised three-word slogans?)

  • magic happens with good and bad characters
  • the problems are always solved by the end of the story

Fear, violence, anger and treachery are always overcome by courage, love and cleverness.

elephant in garden toronto
What could be the story here – an elephant roaming suburbia?

Story idea: – Lost in the Woods

You can try writing a fractured fairytale – taking the bones of a well-known tale/myth and using your imagination put your own interpretation on it.

Or take the structure and elements of fairytales and apply them to one of these stories:

Your character goes for a walk in the woods and loses his/her way. After many hours of wandering through the trees, s/he comes upon (choose a scenario) …

  • an old cabin that an escaped criminal has made his home.
  • an attractive stranger, who appears injured and disoriented.
  • a magnificent house, with the door unlocked and all of the lamps lit, but apparently empty.
  • a crying baby, lying alone in a pile of leaves.
  • what appears to be some kind of spacecraft
  • a pack of wolves, or perhaps werewolves
  • a military project so secret that the government can’t risk your character leaving alive.
  • a summer camp full of children who are terrified because the adults supervising them have all mysteriously disappeared.

What else might your character find in the woods …

Stories based on fairytales are popular in pop culture and among those interested in cosplay – I found that out when I went to Comi-con with my daughter – check out the photos here – you may get inspiration for character descriptions.

more fairytales.jpg

Rewrite a Fairytale For a News Article

Reporters still use the pyramid structure ie.

  • write the most important point first and gradually add details to the story so if readers don’t read to the end they know the main facts.

Here’s my take on Goldilocks –

ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL by Mairi Neil

Goldie Locks of Primrose Cottage had a narrow escape in the woods today. She was chased by three bears, who have taken up residence for winter. However, if Goldie had obeyed her mother and played in the garden, the escapade could have been avoided. Instead, she explored the woods alone.

‘When I heard my mother’s voice, I cried with relief,’ said Miss Locks.

‘Yes,’ confirmed her mother, ‘she was pale and breathless and threw herself into my arms. It was some time before I got the story out of her.’

And what a story it is, readers.

The police interviewed the three bears and have decided not to lay charges. It seems Miss Locks entered Bear Cottage without permission. She not only stole food but caused criminal damage.

A distraught Baby Bear sacrificed his breakfast to Goldie Locks’ greed. She broke his favourite chair and left grass stains on his quilt when she fell asleep on his bed with dirty shoes.

Taking Miss Locks’ tender years into account, the Bear family will not press charges.

The police appreciate not being tied up with the paperwork a case like this generates. They have also agreed to mediate a conference between the Locks and the Bears to facilitate friendly neighbourhood relations.

‘After all,’ said Papa Bear, ‘we all must share the woods.

backpacker statue.jpg

Traveller’s tales can be adapted into fairytales – imagine what this backpacker is thinking as he stands in the centre of a strange city – who will he meet? What customs will he have to learn? Will he have to do something before being allowed to leave? Will he meet someone special and decide to stay?

Brainstorm New Fairytale Titles and Ideas

Make character profiles and think of their story arc (maybe change the protagonist or change the point of view…)

Fractured fairytales use the tales you know and change one, some or all of the characters, setting, points of view or plots. Eg The Wolf who Cried

CINDERELLA – If The Shoe Fits Wear It

Thousands of single ladies flock to a ball dressed to impress. One wore a glass slipper…

  • Think royalty – often queens and princesses are betrayed, divorced, murdered because they can’t produce an heir
  • Who wins from arranged marriages?
  • What if one of the step-sisters is nice and one horrible and Cinderella has manipulated their relationship to her own advantage
  • Is the prince gay and that’s why he has difficulty choosing a wife

JACK & THE BEANSTALK – Young Boy and His Mother Strike it Lucky

  • Genetically modified beanstalk
  • What are the motives of the Giant’s wife? She hid Jack so is she dishonest? a domestic violence victim?
  • Were Jack and she stupid or brave? Giant threatened them but did he deserve to die?
  • Where are the ethics if Jack triumphs – Jack was a thief?
  • Is this about bullying – Jack’s mum a shrew, the Giant into domestic violence

RUMPELSTILTSKIN – Clever People Come in Small Packages – Or Do They?

  • Girl locked in a room by the king.
  • Dwarf worked on her behalf and she offered her child.
  • Dwarf’s name had to be discovered.
  • Was it a case of Stockholm Syndrome when she married the king?
  • How do you break down the stereotype of people with a disability?
  • Do people ever accept outsiders?

THREE LITTLE PIGS – Property Developer Outwitted by Pig Family

  • Is there always one member of a family who is the smartest?
  • Do they write a manual on how to stand up to the local bully?
  • Think of the scandal over using cladding in the building industry
  • Is the story saying courage comes in many forms?
  • What about the balance of the natural world?

What about a modern twist to:

  • The Princess and The Pea – in the age of celebrity how do we rate women?
  • Beauty and the Beast – do you find love in strange places, diversity is the future, intolerance leads to violence
  • Rapunzel – kidnapping, obsession, cruelty – think of the stories of women being held prisoner, what about Stockholm Syndrome, can we change the high rate of domestic violence?

Here are three fractured fairytales I wrote in class years ago – try writing some yourself – it can be a lot of fun.  fractured fairytales by Mairi Neil

Happy Writing!

4 thoughts on “Write Your Own Fairytale

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