Exploring genre | How to write a fairy tale

Teach kids how to write a fairy tale by including a sympathetic character, evil villain, magical elements, faraway places, and plot twists.

Most kids are familiar with the fairy-tale stories of Rapunzel, Beauty and the Beast, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rumplestiltskin, and Cinderella. Usually written for children, fairy tales tell about the adventures of imaginary beings in faraway lands.

This activity will help you teach your kids how to write a fairy tale.

What Is a Fairy Tale?

The fairy tale genre needs to include certain basic elements. Otherwise, it may not be a fairy tale at all!

These characteristics mark a story as a fairy tale:

  • It usually begins with “Once upon a time,” “Long ago,” or “Once there was a …”
  • The story takes place in a distant or make-believe land.
  • It features imaginary characters such as dragons, fairies, elves, and giants.
  • Things happen in threes and sevens (three bears, three wishes, seven brothers).
  • Wishes are often granted.
  • A difficult problem is solved at the end of the story.
  • Good triumphs over evil.
  • The story has a happy ending.

In addition, a fairy tale will often include:

  • Royal characters such as kings and princesses
  • Talking animals
  • Magical elements such as magic beans, fairy dust, enchanted castle

How to Write a Fairy Tale

1. Who is the hero or heroine?

Children naturally want to see the main character succeed against the odds! Help your child pick a likeable character for her story. Usually it is someone humble, innocent, or kind-hearted. As you talk about familiar fairy tales, point out how the “good” character is someone the reader cares about—the hero of the story!

Examples: Aladdin, Snow White, Rapunzel, the Three Little Pigs

2. Who is the villain?

Every fairy tale has a villain, someone who has evil intentions toward the main character. This evil character wants to control or harm the main character, sometimes using magic powers to do so.

Examples: Big bad wolf, evil queen, Cinderella’s stepmother

3. What is the magical element of the story?

Most fairy tales include a magical ingredient. Guide your child to choose a friend, guardian, or magic element that helps the hero and adds enchantment to the story. This is a good place to include those magic numbers of three or seven.

Examples: Fairy godmother, genie in a magic lamp, three gifts

4. Where will the story take place?

The setting can affect the mood of the story. For example, a forest can be filled with friendly critters and patches of sunlight, or it can be dark, gloomy, and scary. Ask your child to choose a setting and decide what the mood will be.

Examples: woods, castle, tower, cottage, garden

5. What lesson will the story teach?

A fairy tale usually teaches a lesson about excellence in conduct or character. Help your child decide on the lesson her fairy tale will teach.

Examples: loyalty, bravery, kindness, integrity, hard work, sacrifice

6. What is the story plot?

Our hero needs to face a challenge. The obstacle might be a destination the character must reach. There may be a person to rescue or a spell to break, or the main character may need to find true love.

Examples: Snow White must stay safe from the evil queen, the giant wants to eat Jack, true love will break the Beast’s spell 

7. What is the happy ending?

It isn’t a fairy tale without a happy ending! How is the challenge resolved? What leads to happily ever after? How does the villain get what is coming to him?

Examples: The glass slipper fits Cinderella’s foot, the Beast turns back into a prince, the Ugly Duckling turns into a lovely swan

If you’re just beginning to explore this genre with your child, and she’s not quite ready to write a fairy tale on her own, encourage her to rewrite a favorite story instead. Changing some of the elements in a familiar story is a great way to learn more about how to write a fairy tale!

. . . . .

If you’re looking for more inspiration, one of my favorite products is Warfare by Duct Tape. Imagine the fun your boys will have writing a heroic fairy tale and then fashioning swords out of duct tape!

Warfare by Duct Tape

Photo: Carl Offterdinger, courtesy of Creative Commons

 

15 Comments

  • Posted June 14, 2015

    Patricia brown

    i like the way you described and set examples for how to write. It helped me, and I’m am a teen and I have never wrote or attempted to write a book, and now I’m interested in writing a book

  • Posted October 29, 2015

    nadia vally

    Love the way you told us how to write a fairytale

  • Posted November 7, 2015

    mimi

    The happy ending part is Disney’s definition of a fairytale. Growing up in Europe, I was much exposed to the dark truth of historical fairytales such as those by the Grimm brothers, and others. Unhappy endings were not unusual. I remember feeling sad every time when the little mermaid (not Disney’s April, but the original gal) was turned to sea foam because the prince rejected her; he married someone else …. Fairytales were historically used to teach people lessons, not simply to entertain them.

    • Posted November 8, 2015

      Kim Kautzer

      Thanks for weighing in, Mimi. Though you’re right, of course, about the historical not-always-happy fairy tale ending, my target audience is young writers. That’s why I encourage happy endings!

      • Posted May 12, 2016

        Chloe

        I am a young writer(15 years old), and some people like happy endings but its fun to make it snazzy and change the ending. If you want to be a really good writer then make it your own don’t follow every tip. Such as making the ending happy. Don’t write for the audience write for yourself. It makes it have more meaning and character. The only exception is little kids, then its writing for them.

        • Posted May 12, 2016

          Kim Kautzer

          Absolutely! Tips are just suggestions. This is lesson is aimed at younger writers than you (elementary age), but any writer is free to take ideas and run with them. You’re right that it’s fun to change things up, but young children often do best when starting from a “safer” model like this one.

          Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m glad you’re an out-of-the-box thinker and writer, Chloe. Keep it up!

  • Posted May 1, 2016

    Snorkle

    Thank you! I’m using this with my second graders this week.

    • Posted May 2, 2016

      Kim Kautzer

      How fun, Snorkle! I hope they love, love, love writing fairy tales!

  • Posted May 6, 2016

    Belle

    thanks

  • Posted December 24, 2016

    Michelle

    I am a ten years old writer and my teacher has asked me to write a fractured fairy tale to submit in a competition. Thanks for the tips!

    • Posted December 24, 2016

      Kim Kautzer

      I hope the tips help you write a fantastic fractured fairy tale, Michelle. I’m sure you will do a wonderful job.

  • Posted 13 days ago

    Aslan

    Why do you say “your child” then proceed to continuously say “she” and “her”? Guys write fairy tales too.

    • Posted 13 days ago

      Kim Kautzer

      Of course guys write fairy tales, Aslan! 🙂 If you look again, you’ll see that most of the article is actually gender neutral. The second-to-the-last paragraph uses feminine pronouns. The last paragraph regarding Warfare by Duct Tape uses masculine pronouns.

    • Posted 12 days ago

      Rachel

      Yes, if you look throughout history it was mostly men that wrote fairytales actually… Hans Christian Anderson, George MacDonald, The Grimm Brothers, C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, L. Frank Baum just to name a few and that’s why most of the Evil characters are female. I think it’s great to encourage young girls and women to write them actually 🙂

      Actually do you know any female fairytale writers?? I can’t think of any 🙁

      • Posted 12 days ago

        Kim Kautzer

        That’s a great observation, Rachel. Sadly, I came up empty! I did find a few modern female authors of fairy tales, but I don’t think I’d be able to recommend their books for kids—at least not without a closer look.

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