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Twisted Tales: 5 Tips for Writing a Fairy Tale Retelling

The classic fairy tales we grew up with have a place inside my heart. I love them and I’ve really come to love the new renditions of them in the new genre of twisted tales. Some of my favorites include The Lunar Chronicles, Beastly, Spinning Silver, and Ella Enchanted.

They each tell tales we have heard before, but they continue to surprise and delight despite us knowing a vague outline of the plot. That feels even more masterful to me sometimes than normal writing. The retelling of fairy tales brings in a craft of creative writing that has been fun to read and something to learn from as a writer.

In light of this, I’ve recently begun to create my own twisted tale based off from the classic tale of Rapunzel. While I do love the Disney retelling of Rapunzel, mine is a bit different, diving into the original classic tale for certain aspects and creating a whole new world for young Rapunzel to live in.

I have a propensity for strong female leads in my stories and Flora, a sweet young girl with hair that grows as she wills, has a strong heart and will have to learn to be more than she ever dreamed possible if she wants to escape the palace holding her prisoner. Caught in an epic battle between two countries, a prophecy by an old witch, and two cocky princes, Flora and that magical hair of hers will turn the tides of war.

I haven’t gotten too far into the story, just an outline and a few chapters, but already I’m loving Flora. She loves feeling beautiful and yet hates being stared at by the thuggish men of court. She is strong enough to stand up for herself but needs help to learn that she’s strong enough to believe in herself too.

I’ve learned a few things from reading these retellings of fairy tales and now, as I’ve begun to write my own, I’ve learned even more. Here are five tips to help you start writing your own twisted tale.

1. Research your original fairy tale

This is extremely important. If you only have the most recent Disney version of a fairy tale in mind, you might be missing out on a lot. Did you know Rapunzel actually is a type of lettuce? In the original tale, there is no princess, but a very pregnant woman who lived next door to a witch. This original story as well as the other versions that have been created since will influence my whole story. It is also helpful to make sure that your idea hasn’t already been written. You want to be original in your twisting.

alone book coat fairy tale

2. Write a magic system

Your magic system (as most fairy tales have some sort of one), needs to be clearly defined, at least to the author (trust me, the reader will know even if it’s not blatantly stated). Magic looks very different in each version of a fairy tale and you need to make sure own system is consistent within itself. This is common advice given for fantasy writers, because a magic system that doesn’t make sense will hurt your overall story. Do fairies exist? Are they small, large, green, blue? Do they have to speak spells? Touch people? Make a deal? Figure out how your world works and go from there. Check out my article on magic systems to learn how to create your own.

3. Create a setting

Knowing where a story takes place will drastically shape how the story plays out. Will you have a modern day fairy tale? Maybe it will be set in the future? If that’s the case, people probably won’t be running around castles or fighting with swords. Your setting will set the tone for the entire story and dictate how you can twist the tale. 

4. Make your characters different

You aren’t continuing a fairy tale, you’re twisting it. Your characters, though based on the earlier versions of these tales, needs to be completely unique. Some traits will be consistent and should be. For example, in The Lunar Chronicles, Cinder (the parallel of Cinderella) is sweet and thoughtful, but she is a mechanic (oil instead of ash) and spends her time with robots rather than mice. She is completely her own character from the classical Cinderella though we feel the original tale woven in. If you feel like your characters are falling flat, check out this article on creating vibrant characters.

5. Know your twist

From the beginning, you need to clearly be able to explain why your tale is different from the original. And it can’t just be setting or character, though those are important. You need to have a slightly different version of events. If your reader is constantly expecting the next thing written, they will get bored. You need to find a way to make the story your own and have your own twists. This can be by adding in a totally new element to the story or by subverting expectations. If you know Cinderella is going to lose her shoe, surprise us by how. 

Are there any twisted fairy-tales you really love? Or are you writing one of your own? Let me know in the comments below!

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