How to Write a Fairy Tale Retelling

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Fairy tale retellings have become incredibly popular, with novels such as the Lunar Chronicles inspiring many writers to rewrite their favorite fairy tales.

But it’s hard to re-write an entire story and keep some of the original elements. Marissa Meyer, the author of the Lunar Chronicles, does this well. She changes genres and character traits (among other things), but keeps the fairy tales recognizable.

These are a few tips to help make writing a fairy tale retelling easier!

1. Choose the story you want to retell

This one seems pretty self explanatory, but it’s important to understand the fairy tale you choose. You should understand the theme, know the plot points and characters, and be able to see where you want things to change. Try to steer away from the more common fairy tales like Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty), Snow White, Cinderella, etc. These stories have already been redone many times. There are plenty of Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales that aren’t as well known, like The Rose Elf and Maid Maleen.

2. Identify what you want to change

Do you want the character who has to be saved be a boy, or a girl? Do you want the hero to become a heroine? Do you want to change which fairy tale monster your hero/ine has to fight? Do you want the story to be set in Ancient Rome instead of early 1800s Germany? Do you want it to be set in the future? In modern times? To stay the same? As the author of the retelling, you get to choose what you want to keep, throw away, or change. Characters can change genders and roles if you want, or you can add completely new ones.

3. What elements should you keep?

Snow White wouldn’t be recognizable without a poisoned apple, or Cinderella without her glass slipper. Every fairy tale is unique, no matter how similar the characters or plots may be. But how do you know what elements to keep? Normally, you should try to keep the things that readers will notice during a retelling, and recognize as belonging to a specific fairy tale. This is especially hard with lesser known tales, because a lot of people haven’t heard of or read the stories. You, as the author, have to choose certain elements that you associate with the specific fairy tale.

4. Decide what kind of retelling you want to write

There are multiple ways to dig deeper into a fairy tale. You can write the backstory of the protagonist, antagonist, or another secondary character. You can set the story in modern times, or change the genders of the characters and see where that takes you. You can also just expand the story and let the readers get to know the characters. Remember, you don’t have to keep anything you don’t want, but it is important to keep a few elements from the original.

5. Consider the theme(s) of the story

Most fairy tales have themes or morals, and sometimes they have multiple. You should be able to identify the main themes of the story, as well as which scenes and/or characters demonstrate the theme. If you don’t like one of the themes, you can cut it out, or you can add new themes.

6. Plan out the tale, or start writing

If you’re the type of writer who finds it helpful to plot out your stories first (typically called a plotter), then definitely plan and write down what you want to happen. If you don’t like having a specific list of what you want to include (called a pantser), then start writing whatever comes to you.

Photo by Alesia Kozik on

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