Fairytales are special. We all know that, the way they endure through the years, capture our imaginations, and inspire authors to put their own spin on them.
They also serve as a great blueprint for us writers. Though they differ story to story, many of them have similar elements that can offer us writers guidelines in our own stories. For simplicity sake, I’m going with the most known versions of the tales, and I’m just pulling some generalities. Here we go!
Kind – It doesn’t sound like much, but almost always the heroes of fairytales are kind people, usually surrounded by not-so-kind people to make their kindness shine even more. Now, I’m not saying our main characters need to be sweet, cheerful, singing princesses, but there does have to be something the readers will like about them. There has to be some reason for us, as readers, to want the hero to succeed and not want them to jump in the nearest volcano. Almost always, when I put a book down, it’s because I don’t like the main character.
Brave – Fairytale heroes are almost always brave. No one wants to read about a wimp who does nothing. They can be scared, shaking in their glass slippers, but heroes have to keep moving despite the fear. It took a lot of guts for Cinderella to step into that ballroom all on her own, or for Snow White to flee into a forest she had no skills to survive in. Our heroes have to move, respond to what is going on around them. Belle could have let the Beast have her father, but she took his place. And we love her for it!
The villains in fairytales are strong, stronger than the heroes. Snow White was against a queen who used black magic. Cinderella had a stepmother who had complete control over her. Giants, witches, evil queens, tyrannical kings, and, of course, Gaston, the narcissistic chauvinist we all love to hate. Villains need to be strong, whether they are human, forces of nature, or whatever you can come up with! The hero should have to struggle to overcome the villain. There should be no chance in a normal world the hero can take on the villain.
Snow White had seven dwarves, Cinderella had a fairy godmother and some mice, Mulan had Mushu. Witty, funny, interesting side characters who support the heroes and give them aid when they need it. Good support characters can really make a story and also provide handy ways to keep things interesting. Heroes can argue with their sidekicks (Eugene and Maximus from Tanlged), get into trouble because of them (Mulan and Mushu), or use them as sounding boards (Sherlock and Watson).
Something has to happen for a story to form. A ball is announced, a queen’s jealousy boils over, a prince is turned into a frog. Something, good or bad, has to change in your heroes life, and that is when the story begins. If war had not come to China, Mulan would never have joined the army. Many fairytales simply have the hero embarking on a journey , usually to find a treasure. Childless couples trying to have children or getting a child and things not turning out right is also very popular. The point is change.
Satisfying. That is the biggest thing I look for in the end of any story. Fairytales almost always end with a marriage and the villain suffering a suitable fate…sometimes involving nails and a barrel as in the Goose Girl story. And if it’s Disney, a girl in a beautiful dress. Stories need to wrap up, tie off all the loose ends, leave a resounding feeling. Villains get their comeuppance, heroes get their happiness. That seems to be a little more up in the air nowadays; for some strange reason some people like unhappy endings and sometimes villains get off scot-free, but even then, the best books leave you satisfied that everything ended the way it had to end. Tie a bow on it, it’s done!
So there you go, my take on how fairytales can show us how to write! And three and half days until Beauty and the Beast comes out. CAN’T WAIT!!!