Writing Fractured Fairy Tales
The words ‘Once Upon a Time’ have the rare ability to instantly transport us to another world. A world packed with magic and fantasy, where true loves kiss conquers all and good wins over evil.
One amazingly popular form of romance is a retelling, where writers take on a well-known narrative, giving it a unique spin and a new lease of life.
Although retellings can be applied to historical events, myths and legends, or even classic novels, our favourite form is the fractured fairy tale.
We know that Beauty falls in love with the Beast and Jack trades his cow for magic beans.
What if the roles were reversed in Sleeping Beauty, and Prince Charming needed rescuing? What if Snow White was corrupted by the power of the Magic Mirror? What if Puss in Boots was reimagined as a human character?
Fractured fairy tales are all about the ‘what ifs’ of the story, exploring brand new angles of the classic narrative to create something that’s totally original.
They can bring a beloved narrative into the modern day, place well-known characters into a brand new setting, or even introduce new paranormal elements to bring a little spice to a dusty old tale.
If you’re intrigued by fractured fairy tales, why not check out our brand new winter writing competition, which challenges you to write a 500-word retelling of ‘The Snow Queen’!
Taking apart a classic tale is an amazing way to flex your creative muscles, so we’ve included just a few of the ways you can retell a story in our handy tips below:
We all know about the protagonists, but fairy tales are home to far more characters — cackling witches, fire-breathing dragons and big bad wolves. Why not write a story from their perspective?
Will Rumpelstiltskin ever have a child of his own, does Gaston ever find a wife?
Who says that the princess can’t be friends with the dragon guarding her tower, or that the three little pigs aren’t really so innocent after all? Here’s your chance to explore the other side of the story!
Location, Location, Location
Fractured fairy tales don’t need to take place in a land far away and changing the setting can give a brand new perspective. What if Little Red Riding Hood lived in a big city, or Rapunzel’s tower was really a tower block? What if Cinderella didn’t want to go to the ball, but a ballgame instead?
Happily Ever After?
Now’s your opportunity to explore what came after the end, or how the characters came to be. What happened to the Magic Mirror after Snow White became queen? What were the three little pigs like when they were piglets?
Switching it up
What happens to the story when you switch up genders, ethnicities or nationalities? What if the prince fell in love with a beautiful woman under the waves, and desperately wished to become a merman instead?
Behind the Scenes
The main plot of a fairy tale has stayed the same throughout the centuries, but it doesn’t need to stay that way. New characters, plot points or scenarios can add a fun twist on the classic. What if the first little pig had let the wolf in? What if Goldilocks went to the next house along, home to a family of racoons?
Keeping it Simple
Fairy tales may be short and sweet, but your retelling doesn’t need to include the entire original plot. There are so many memorable moments in the classic tales, so try focusing your retelling on a particular scene. What about Dorothy’s first impression of Oz, Alice’s fall into Wonderland, or the moment the Witch catches Hansel and Gretel?
A classic fairy tale always features a protagonist and an antagonist, but what if their roles are exchanged? How do the Giants feel when Jack is trespassing into their Kingdom? What if Aladdin was seeking fame and not the heart of the princess?
Choosing Your Story
A story that starts with only a few hundred words could turn into a book of several thousand, filled with brand new characters, exotic locations and riveting plotlines, not to mention a romance to die for.
The entire point of this subgenre is reinterpreting a classic tale through fresh eyes.
Don’t feel stuck with reading only the fairy tales that have a romantic element if you want to write a romantic retelling.
If your favourite fairy tale doesn’t have a romantic element, here’s your chance to weave one in. Take a look at some classic stories that have a down-played romantic element (or none at all):
12 Dancing Princesses
The story follows 12 princesses as they escape every night to dance, and the prince who is tasked with following them.
The ultimate in cunning cats, Puss-in-Boots is a classic ‘trickster’ tale, focusing more on cleverness than getting the girl.
Jack and the Beanstalk
Clever Jack ends his tale happily after defeating the giant, but how would the story change with an element of romance added in?
The miller’s daughter starts the story locked in a tower, forced to spin straw into gold on a punishment of death… but she later marries the same king who imprisoned her.
The Princess and the Pea
While there’s a happy ending, the Princess is a 2-dimensional character. How would the story change if she was given a voice?
Fairy stories have been around for centuries, but many of them carry the same expectations that were placed on women times gone by. In many stories, women were either:
Beautiful and petite damsels in distress waiting passively for their Prince Charming to come and rescue them.
Jealous, haggard or evil witches, stepmothers or queens who get their comeuppance.
We can certainly appreciate fairy tales for their escapism, but a retelling is a fantastic opportunity to cast characters in a new light.
It’s a chance to add nuance, three-dimensional characters and updated social norms. The twists force us to question the kind of conventions that put characters into such restrictive roles, which is always a good thing.
As cheesy as it sounds, fairy tale retellings send an important message: you don’t have to be a princess to deserve a fairytale ending.
Making it New
Above all else, a fairy tale retelling is really, really fun! Fairy tales have always been viewed as a source of entertainment.
So many writers get hung up on the notion that your idea has to be totally original, something that no-one has ever written before.
Given the endless stream of new romances published every month, it’s easy to think this, but the reality couldn’t be further than the truth.
A little-known secret of any romance writer is that there’s no such thing as original ideas. There are only original ways to write them.
Winter Writing Competition 2018!
Writing a fairy tale retelling can certainly be a challenge, but it’s an amazing opportunity to test your imagination. Our tips are especially useful if you’re taking part in our incredible winter competition and creating your own retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Snow Queen’!
Our competition is open to everyone, whether you’re enrolled onto our courses or not. If you’d like to try something a little different, we’re also running our winter competition on our sister courses, WriteStorybooks and WriteFictionBooks. There are more chances to take part than ever!
If you’d like to take part but don’t know where to start, take a look at some of our storybook suggestions to kickstart your creativity…
Strong Female Characters
In ‘The Snow Queen’, Gerda sets out to save her best friend, Kai, after he is kidnapped by the snow queen.
It’s a rare occurrence where the rescuer roles are reversed, paving the way for new, modern interpretations of Gerda’s character.
Snow Queen Origin
We know that the Snow Queen is powerful beyond compare, but we don’t know how she came to be.
How did she get her powers? Why does she use them for evil? Is she a more complicated character than we realise?
A Heart of Ice
The original tale is told from the point of view of someone who is warm and open.
How would the story change if it was told from the perspective of someone whose heart was pierced by a splinter from the Snow Queen’s troll-mirror? Someone with a heart of ice…
We all know at least one fairy tale off by heart, but how is it possible to re-tell a story that’s been told a million times before?
The truth is that all fairy tales have evolved over centuries being told time and time again. They’ve advanced with each retelling and dozens of variations are told differently all over the world.
Every single storyteller sees a story in their own way. All you need to do is figure out how you want to tell it.
We’ve already mentioned quite a few classic, but here are some fairy tale selections
to get you started. How many have you read?