Writing Fairy Tales

Posted on

(A Guest Post by Shelley Chappell)

southernstarRecently I put out a call for submissions for an anthology of radical retellings of fairy tales for young adult readers. I’ve always loved fairy tales and I released my own collection of novelette-length retellings, Beyond the Briar, back in 2014, followed by some shorter fairy tale retellings. I’m keen to see what other writers might do with fairy tale retellings and, in particular, to gather together fairy tale retellings by Southern writers – citizens or residents of New Zealand, Australia or a South Pacific island – and explore what synergy we can create in our retellings.

Wish Upon a Southern Star will be a collection of quirky and profound reinterpretations of our favourite tales. The contributors will all be citizens or residents of New Zealand, Australia or a South Pacific island. The stories will each retell a single fairy tale, which may be from the European fairy tale canon or a lesser known original (including non-European fairy tales). I’m really looking forward to reading the submissions and selecting some thought-provoking stories for fairy tale fans to read.

As many writers have never experimented with fairy tale retelling, my fellow writers at the Christchurch Writers’ Guild have asked me to share what I know about fairy tales and my suggestions of how to rewrite them. My recent blog series covers this subject in depth, tracing why I love fairy tales, what fairy tales are, the history of fairy tales and fairy tale retellings, fairy tale critics, approaches to fairy tale retellings and a writing exercise on how to radically retell fairy tales. But that’s a lot of reading! For those of you who just want a quick overview as you’re chomping to get started, here are the essentials:

What is a fairy tale?
A fairy tale is a kind of folk tale which takes place in a magical, other realm, contains archetypal characters, repeated motifs, and a plot structure involving journeys or quests, tests, magical help, transformations, punishments and rewards.

What’s important about the history of fairy tales?
Fairy tales have been around for thousands of years but they took on a new lease of life with the writings of the French around the turn of the seventeenth century followed by a range of collectors and writers in the nineteenth century, including the Grimms, Hans Christian Andersen, and Andrew Lang. To retell fairy tales, you have to know the originals. You can read a huge range of fairy tales from around the world online.

How do you retell one?
Fairy tale retellings can be standard and close to the original or they can be radically different or ‘fractured’. How radical or fractured a fairy tale retelling is depends on how many of the key elements are changed – characters and their roles and motivations; settings; plot events; motifs and objects; genre; narrative perspective; themes and messages. If you want to write a radically retold fairy tale, you’ll need to work out how and why you want to change each of these elements – what you want to keep (so that the fairy tale is still recognisable) and what you want to transform.

If you’d like to contribute to Wish Upon a Southern Star, please read the details in the Call for submissions and contact me if you have any queries. I can be reached on my Facebook page, my website, or by emailing wishuponasouthernstar@yahoo.com. Happy writing!


once upon a time closeShelley Chappell wrote her PhD on the motif of fantastic metamorphosis in children’s and young adult fantasy literature and has taught literary analysis at a variety of institutions. In her spare time, Shelley writes fairy tales and other fantasy fiction for all ages. She is the author of BEYOND THE BRIAR: A COLLECTION OF ROMANTIC FAIRY TALES.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s