Whether You’re Teaching Yourself or Others How to Write Fairy Tales, the Same Rules Apply.
Use this post as either a fairytale writing lesson plan, or a way to teach yourself how to write fairy tales.
Start by Reading a Classic. Below is “The Seven Ravens” by The Brothers Grimm.
The Seven Ravens
There was once a man who had seven sons, and still he had no daughter, however much he wished for one. At length his wife again gave him hope of a child, and when it came into the world it was a girl. The joy was great, but the child was sickly and small, and had to be privately baptized on account of its weakness. The father sent one of the boys in haste to the spring to fetch water for the baptism. The other six went with him, and as each of them wanted to be first to fill it, the jug fell into the well. There they stood and did not know what to do, and none of them dared to go home. As they still did not return, the father grew impatient, and said, “They have certainly forgotten it for some game, the wicked boys!” He became afraid that the girl would have to die without being baptized, and in his anger cried, “I wish the boys were all turned into ravens.” Hardly was the word spoken before he heard a whirring of wings over his head in the air, looked up and saw seven coal-black ravens flying away. The parents could not recall the curse, and however sad they were at the loss of their seven sons, they still to some extent comforted themselves with their dear little daughter, who soon grew strong and every day became more beautiful. For a long time she did not know that she had had brothers, for her parents were careful not to mention them before her, but one day she accidentally heard some people saying of herself, “that the girl was certainly beautiful, but that in reality she was to blame for the misfortune which had befallen her seven brothers.” Then she was much troubled, and went to her father and mother and asked if it was true that she had had brothers, and what had become of them? The parents now dared keep the secret no longer, but said that what had befallen her brothers was the will of Heaven, and that her birth had only been the innocent cause. But the maiden took it to heart daily, and thought she must deliver her brothers. She had no rest or peace until she set out secretly, and went forth into the wide world to trace out her brothers and set them free, let it cost what it might. She took nothing with her but a little ring belonging to her parents as a keepsake, a loaf of bread against hunger, a little pitcher of water against thirst, and a little chair as a provision against weariness.
And now she went continually onwards, far, far to the very end of the world. Then she came to the sun, but it was too hot and terrible, and devoured little children. Hastily she ran away, and ran to the moon, but it was far too cold, and also awful and malicious, and when it saw the child, it said, “I smell, I smell the flesh of men.” On this she ran swiftly away, and came to the stars, which were kind and good to her, and each of them sat on its own particular little chair. But the morning star arose, and gave her the drumstick of a chicken, and said, “If you thou hast not that drumstick thou canst not open the Glass mountain, and in the Glass mountain are thy brothers.”
The maiden took the drumstick, wrapped it carefully in a cloth, and went onwards again until she came to the Glass mountain. The door was shut, and she thought she would take out the drumstick; but when she undid the cloth, it was empty, and she had lost the good star’s present. What was she now to do? She wished to rescue her brothers, and had no key to the Glass mountain. The good sister took a knife, cut off one of her little fingers, put it in the door, and succeeded in opening it. When she had gone inside, a little dwarf came to meet her, who said, “My child, what are you looking for?” “I am looking for my brothers, the seven ravens,” she replied. The dwarf said, “The lord ravens are not at home, but if you will wait here until they come, step in.” Thereupon the little dwarf carried the ravens’ dinner in, on seven little plates, and in seven little glasses, and the little sister ate a morsel from each plate, and from each little glass she took a sip, but in the last little glass she dropped the ring which she had brought away with her.
Suddenly she heard a whirring of wings and a rushing through the air, and then the little dwarf said, “Now the lord ravens are flying home.” Then they came, and wanted to eat and drink, and looked for their little plates and glasses. Then said one after the other, “Who has eaten something from my plate? Who has drunk out of my little glass? It was a human mouth.” And when the seventh came to the bottom of the glass, the ring rolled against his mouth. Then he looked at it, and saw that it was a ring belonging to his father and mother, and said, “God grant that our sister may be here, and then we shall be free.” When the maiden, who was standing behind the door watching, heard that wish, she came forth, and on this all the ravens were restored to their human form again. And they embraced and kissed each other, and went joyfully home.
After you’ve finished reading the story, ask yourself or your students these questions:
1. Who is the hero?
2. Who/what is the villain?
3. How is magic used?
4. How are numbers used?
A couple of these questions have clear answers, and a couple are more complex. Keep in mind that all fairytales have a hero and a villain. Magic is almost always used and numbers often are. Think about how “The Seven Ravens” followed these conventions, and how it may not have.
Then, consider the following:
The basic structure of a fairy tale involves a hero or heroine performing one or more tasks and then being rewarded as a result. The obstacle usually appears to be almost impossible, but with a bit of creativity and some magical assistance a solution can be found. The obstacle may be overcome by the protagonist’s ‘good’ qualities, such as courage, cunning or goodness, and/or by help from a friend or mentor with magical powers, or by using a magical object.
Time to start planning your own fairy tale! Describe the obstacle that your hero/heroine will need to overcome in your fairytale. What are the risks? What are the rewards? What will happen if the hero/heroine doesn’t succeed?
A good character will typically start off as young, often poor and alone, unhappy, humble and untainted. They generally turn out to be respected and to have found power and happiness.
Answer these questions:
- Who is your protagonist? (Remember, either/both your protagonist or your antagonist can be something other than human.) Are they human, an animal, or a magical creature? Be specific and describe your protagonist.
- What is your protagonist’s best quality? What makes him/her good and heroic?
- What is getting in the way of your protagonist’s happiness?
The bad character (often a witch, goblin, dragon, or ogre) acts as an antagonist to the good character and they usually have evil powers which are used to cause the good character pain.
Answer these questions about your villain:
- Who is he/she? Are they a magical creature, an animal, or a human? Describe him/her in detail.
- What does your villain want? Why is he/she willing to resort to evil to get it?
- Villains always have a backstory. Briefly describe what happened to him/her that made your villain turn bad.
Many fairy tales have both good and evil magical characters that work to off-set the other’s influence.
There are also magic numbers. The numbers three and seven are very special and fairy stories wouldn’t be the same without them. There are plenty of examples of these numbers being used in fairy tales – 3 little pigs, 7 dwarves, 3 fairy godmothers, 3 wishes, 7 mermaid sisters, 3 bears.
Answer these questions:
- What type of magic will be used in your fairytale? How will it be used? Describe.
- Are you going to use numbers in any way? (It’s fine if the answer is no.) If you are going to use numbers, how?
- How will the magic help achieve “happily ever after”? Remember, EVERY modern fairytale has a happy ending. But…
- If you want an unhappy ending, then you can instead end with a lesson learned. What lesson will be learned? How is everything resolved?
Once upon a time, there was (describe your hero) who (describe their obstacle to happiness.)
Go on to work in your villain, their agenda, the magical element, and what your hero/heroine must do to find happiness.) Also put in details & description of the setting and other elements of the story.