Genres outside of children’s books have used the exciting themes from fairy tales for years. Why not try it for your novel?
Many novels involving relationships are some form of a classic fairy tale or myth. You’ve read this one: A heroine longs for a hero. The hero remains unnoticed, reduced in stature by an undeserved misfortune. (Loses job, divorce, just plain poor) The hero attempts to gain favor with the heroine in every way possible, maybe some unconventional. (Steals cars, diamonds, spies for MI5) The hero, likable, passionate (hot) and intelligent albeit quirky, is a big contrast to the evil man of wealth and power that the heroine is being forced to marry.
With the help of magical aids: wizards, fairies, talismans, ancient treasure (money from a heist, stash of diamonds,) or the like, evil is overcome and in the end, hero and heroine live happily ever after.
How can a writer effectively use the great plots of fairy tales and not the contrivances of magic wands, wishes and fairies?
It’s simple: study the plot, the twists and turns and add your own literary devices to create an outcome without ‘magic’. Every milestone in a plot tells the reader where the character is going and how the character feels. (True or false depending on the circumstances at the time). Use a fairy tale plot and make it your own.
Snow White wasn’t killed in the forest; you have a character that instead of dying has a second chance at life but with amnesia.
Hansel and Gretel find a house in the woods and are taken captive by a witch; you have a character that becomes friends with a recluse who later turns dangerously psychotic.
Fantastical. That’s what fairy tales are supposed to be. As a literary novelist, you have to be careful not to need miracles to write yourself out of a corner or fix an ending that has no logical way out.
Avoid cliche and contrivance; they kill a good story.
That doesn’t mean you can’t learn from the masters of three wishes and mirrors that talk back. You would not be the first writer to grab a copy of The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm and read the lesser known stories for some inspiration. Like ‘The Shroud’, a three paragraph story about a little boy who falls ill, dies and can’t rest in his coffin because his mother weeps on his shroud. He appears to her with his shroud in hand and explains that her tears are making it wet and once it’s dry, he will be able to rest in his grave. There’s the seed of a ghost story; all it needs is the back-story and somewhere new to go.
Template for a fairy tale:
Once upon a time there was: Introduce characters. Setting
Every day: Foreshadow. Build stakes. Inciting incident changes things.
One day: Something big happens. Chaos ensues.
Because of that: Reaction to Chaos. Everything changes.
(Leads to unfolding of truths)
Because of that: Confrontation. Climax. Final battle.
Until finally: Resolution. Final scene.
So fire the wizards, stop auditioning the fairies and put down the magic wand. Try subtle symbolism, deft sub-plotting and expertly written characters. And above all, a well thought out plot.
Now it’s your turn. Write a fairy tale in your own voice in a literary style. Pick one you liked as a kid and re-write it, read through The Brothers Grimm for some inspiration then write a short story or you could outline an entire novel. Remember, the writer is the ultimate magician.
Let me hear from you. Write away, Christina.