A Fairy Tale Template For Your Fiction

Not quite my hero

How can I ‘write’ this frog into a prince without magic?

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.

Examples:
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.

A grim Grimm story 'The Shroud'

A grim Grimm story ‘The Shroud’

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.

Sorry, I won't be needing you today

Sorry, I won’t need you today

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.

Comments

  1. The post on its own is a great read, but it reminds me yet again that Christina always brings these creative exercises that are not only fun and interesting on their own, but are also extremely helpful. Another way to push one to move his work towards completion. I’ll be back later on with my take on this template. Thanks Christina!

  2. Michael B says:

    Once upon a time there a very beautiful princess that had very, very big feet. Every day she visited special web sites for princes who were into very big feet. She hoped to marry one of these princes. But she had no luck on the internet.

    One day she found a prince who wasn’t into big feet, but he was very, very tall. Because of that, her feet looked very small because they were so far away. Because of that, the prince didn’t know that the princess had huge feet and he asked her to marry him.

    They were very happy until finally, he saw her coming down the palace steps on their wedding day and, seeing how big her feet really were, he ran away and left her.

    BUT, because she had such huge feet, the princess took up swimming, won a Gold Medal in swimming at the Olympics and lived happily ever after.

  3. Kent Seckinger says:

    I missed a portion of Christina’s talk the other night so I winged it on my on what turned out was not what I’d say is a fairy tale, but I’d love people’s feedback does it fit or not? Where might it fit. Thanks for the feed back.

    Clappying Thunder
    by Kent Seckinger

    Clouds churned and spun over the the valley, bouncing from mountain top to mountain top. Wanting to help each other, they’d do all they could.  The large ones would hoist the smaller clouds, but the pacific winds blew them into rains that fell on the valley, then gathered  back together, and rose once again back to the sky to try and make it over again.  The smaller clouds were clever, they figured out how to double bounce like on a trampalean.  And double bounce they did, so high, in fact, some of their larger friends nearly hit the sun. 

    For five weeks the clouds remained trapped, wanting nothing but to break free, to rise above the peaks, to soar like eagles to the pacific where they belonged. But they could only linger and lag over the small valley. Sometimes the clouds rained tears in sadness, other times they thundered in great anger and frustration. But sometimes, sometimes, every now and then, one would make it over into the Pacific where he was happy, where he belonged. 

    Down in the valley, the people knew when that happened. Oh, they knew, because every cloud still trapped joined and roared in a thunderous clap of applause that snapped all people to attention. But as soon as the clap was over the clouds would get back to business helping each other over, and more thunderous claps came and scared the people, But in time the the sun would shine in bright blues skies in the valley, and no cloud could be see. And because of this the people knew that no cloud ever left one of it own behind.

    • Christina Ranallo says:

      Kent, fairy tales are symbolic, written to teach another meaning. An example is Cinderella, a romantic tale with three hundred and forty-five variants. This is the interpretation I found for many of them: The Maiden, the Dawn, is dull and gray away from the brightness of the sun. The Sisters are the Clouds that shadow the Dawn, and the Stepmother is Night. The Dawn hurries away from the pursuing Prince, the Sun, who, after a long search, overtakes her in glorious robes of sunset.

      • Kent Seckinger says:

        Got it. So my little story about the clouds, would you say that’s more personification than fairy tale?

        • Christina Ranallo says:

          Don’t worry about a technical term. Think of how children’s stories are told. The imagery is immediately recognized and the story is easy for children to follow. The theme is what’s important the same as any story. What are you telling the reader? Clouds or bank robbers, the characters have to want something, come up against an obstacle and take action to overcome the obstacle. That’s a scene. The reaction to that is the second part of the scene that links it to the next scene and so on. Glad you remembered the scene work we did in the workshop!

      • Kent Seckinger says:

        With a little imagination I thought I could turn this into another way of prompting for the six elements of a scene. Any thoughts?

  4. writersblock says:

    Once upon a time there was a princess of good manners, her name was Jacqueline. Everyday she walked along the dirt path, next to the green forest on her way to school. Then one day, a boy on a horse galloped by so fast that it knocked her off her feet and into a muddy mud pool! Because of that the princess had mud dripping from her hair to her toes and she was fuming! Because of that she hid in that green forest everyday. Until finally she heard the clippety clop of horse feet coming down the path. Then she jumped out in front of that horse and the boy was sent flying into the muddy mud pool. From that day on, the boy used his manners.

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