Rules for Writing Fairy Tales

In case you don’t know yet, I absolutely love fairy tales, and have often dreamed of writing my own fairy tales in the traditional language and style of Grimm’s. And yet this is something I really struggle with – something that seems like it should be so easy and is yet so hard – especially combining traditional fairy tale elements and language in a way that is completely unique and original, and not just a mash-up of other tales.

For anyone else who’s struggling with writing fairy tales of their own, I highly recommend Philip Pullman’s Grimm’s Fairy Tales. It’s not meant as an instructional book or a writing guide – it’s just editions of the stories researched and rewritten in Pullman’s language – but at the end of every story Pullman includes at least one short paragraph about how and why the tale works, and the choices he made in rewriting it. He breaks the tales down and analyzes them in a way that’s really accessible, and his book has helped me a lot in finally buckling down and writing a traditional fairy tale of my own.

Before getting down to work, I drew upon Pullman’s analyses to write down some quick rules of my own to follow as I wrote. Some of these are contradictory, and many go against everything we’re taught about writing, which are two more things that make writing a traditional fairy tale so hard. Here they are, in case they may be helpful to someone else:

1. Plot is love, plot is life

2. Move fast – don’t pause to explain, reflect, or describe

3. Everymen/women and princes/princesses are one and the same, eventually

4. Good things come in threes, or multiples there-of, except when they come in sevens

5. Dues-ex-machinas are fine, especially when they are gifted by wise women or witches

6. Animals can talk

7. Listen and obey, or don’t and face the consequences

8. Youngest sons/daughters are lucky and make the best protagonist

9. The season and the turning there-of is always important and can be used as a metaphor


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