How to Write a Fairy Tale Retelling

Fairy tales have become very popular lately, particularly unique retellings of fairy tales such as The Lunar Chronicles series, Ella Enchanted, Hunted, the ACOTAR series, and many, many others. In fact, the small publisher Rooglewood Press has been hosting a fairy tale retelling contest for a few years now, and they just recently announced this year’s (sadly the last): Snow White. If you’re interested in that, I’ll include a link to the contest page and previous winners below.

If you find you’re one of those people (like me) who is just a sucker for fairy tale retellings and want to try your hand at writing one, how do you going about doing that? Well, there are a few simple steps to make it the best it can be.

  1. Pick something new. Personally, I am tired of the “classic” fairy tales like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Everyone and their mother retells those. What about other classics, like Donkeyskin and the Little Match Girl? I love the story Donkeyskin, but very few authors choose to retell it. Just by picking something lesser known or with fewer popular versions, you will immediately create something that stands apart from the crowd of retellings. In a world saturated with fairy tale stories, that’s a good thing.
  2. Start with the source. Go back to the source material, those first recorded instances of the story. Read the base story before you dive into creating your own version. How can you make a retelling if you don’t know the original? And no, Disney absolutely does not count!
  3. Expand to variations of the source. Look at different variants of the same story. Did you know that many fairy tales have versions in a number of different cultures? A couple years ago, Sleeping Beauty was the theme of the Rooglewood contest, and I hated how passive the heroine was. Turns out, all I needed to do was find a different version, and there she was! My active participant from a Middle Eastern version of the story. Dig around, and it will almost definitely give you ideas and inspiration.
  4. Look at other retellings. Find other, more recent versions of the story you want to tell. Look at how other authors approached the story, what they changed and kept, how it influenced the themes and plot. But don’t stop there! Look at reviews from bloggers and readers of the story. See how the audience reacted to the retelling, the elements they liked and didn’t like. Use this knowledge to your advantage!
  5. Make it recognizable. One of the most important parts of writing a retelling is making sure enough elements are present that the reader knows what story you are retelling. Otherwise, it’s just another story, not a retelling at all. Recognition is key.
  6. Make it new. We are all familiar with classic versions of stories. What readers want is a new take. Maybe there’s something different about the hero and the villain. Maybe the setting is in outer space instead of a woodland. Give your plot twists that may not have been present in the original. Maybe even mix several fairy tales together, like in the Lunar Chronicles. Whatever you decide to do, make it your retelling, not just a copy. Your readers will find it far more interesting that way.

For more reading on fairy tale retellings, you can check out this post from Ink and Quills and this post from Lianne Taimenlore. And if you have any suggestions for writing these kinds of stories, be sure to comment! I’d love to hear your input!

Rooglewood Press 2017 Contest: Five Poisoned Apples
2015 Contest: Five Magic Spindles
2014 Contest: Five Enchanted Roses
2013 Contest: Five Glass Slippers

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