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Four Things Writers Can Learn From Fairy Tales (Besides Never Eat The Free Apple)

Four Things Writers Can Learn From Fairy Tales (Besides Never Eat The Free Apple)

Everyone has a favorite fairy tale. Who could resist a story with a winning hero, a dastardly villain, and everything turning out for the best at the end? But fairy tales are more than simple stories with pat conclusions. There are some very good reasons why these bedtime stories are enduring classics. Here are four fundamental elements found in every time-tested fairy tale that can help you create your own unforgettable stories.

Four Fairy-Tale Fundamentals For Writers

A worthy main character. Your main character should rouse the reader’s concern. Consider good-hearted, trusting protagonists like Cinderella and Snow White, who don’t deserve the treachery that is about to befall them; or innocent Hansel and Gretel, abandoned in the woods, tugging at your heartstrings as they try to find their way home. And how could you not feel sorry for the poor little Ugly Duckling? Capture your readers’ sympathy and they’ll be fully invested in the story’s outcome.

Many fairy tales feature characters using clever ways to outwit their adversaries. Thumbelina overcomes the obstacles of her size by finding inventive ways to use objects around her. The shrewd tailors who fashioned the Emperor’s new clothes made something out of nothing (literally!). Readers enjoy identifying with ordinary characters who find extraordinary ways to rise above life’s unexpected hurdles. Tip: A three-dimensional character will definitely appeal to readers’ modern tastes!

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A fiendish villain. Give readers an antagonist they’ll love to hate. Evil queens may inspire you to write about authority figures who abuse their power. Everyone despises wicked witch characters who put defenseless children in peril. Introduce your own version of a big, bad wolf or a repulsive troll living under the bridge, and put your hero or heroine in imminent danger. A detestable villain and the unbearable suspense he or she creates will keep your readers anxiously turning the pages.

A fantastic setting. Instead of taking place in a typical apartment complex, perhaps your narrative is set in a medieval castle. Your big-city heroine might have more interesting adventures in a forbidden forest. By introducing a unique setting, you can give your story a fresh atmosphere that will pleasantly surprise readers.

An unexpected plot twist. The Ugly Duckling becomes a beautiful swan. The last billy-goat gruff is large enough to easily give the bridge troll his comeuppance. And a princess has a sleepless night on multiple cushy mattresses over a single pea. Having an unanticipated turn of events for your story’s ending will make your writing compelling, interesting, and, ultimately, unforgettable.

Once upon a time, an author wondered how to write a story that would win the hearts of readers. A wise, writerly fairy godmother advised the author to incorporate these four elements found in many timeless fairy tales. The story was well-written, enjoyed by all, and the author became a success. And everyone lived happily ever after!

Photo by PVCG


Writer QuestionsQUESTION: What’s your favorite fairy tale?

7 Responses to Four Things Writers Can Learn From Fairy Tales (Besides Never Eat The Free Apple)

  1. Puss-n-Boots is my favorite. Great, fun story. While I love Antonio Banderas’s portrayal in Shrek, I’m waiting for a faithful telling of the story.

  2. I’ve always had a soft spot for The Steadfast Tin Soldier myself.

    There’s something brilliant about the bitter-sweet ending that gets me every time.

    Also the themes of perseverance, trust, and self-growth are wonderful.

    Looking at it too close can be problematic, but that’s the joy of being writers, right? Keeping what we love and reworking what we take issue with.

  3. I loved Rapunzel. The thoughts of being led to the towers, to see the world pass before you, all the while hair growing stronger and longer, allowing the hero to ascend and assist.

    I love the reminders you have given, as these tales mentioned, along with the others, are classic works. They not only inspired writers, but artists. There are countless renditions of these stories played out through that venue as well.

  4. Snow White, of course. Grumpy, bashful and all! Then of course there is cinderalla, who is mistreated but has a singular goal in life. and it’s her goodness that makes the story.

  5. Snow White and Rose Red. Rose Red is at the heart of the story for me, or she WAS me. She was not the good, obedient daughter. But mostly because of the bear.

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