How to Revamp a Fairy Tale


We all love them: the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, the new re-tellings of fabulous fairy tales by contemporary authors such as Aimee Bender or Kevin Brockmeier. Fairy and folk tales have a lot of allure. They touch on universal topics, they're strange, they captivate, transport, and feel real all at once. Fables are the inspiration for Ella Bandita and the Wanderer. They're easy to contemporize because they have such universal themes. This post is going to give you a few quick, easy applications for transforming your favorite story into a new, contemporary piece. Want to be inspired?

Download your free story of Scheherazade - my retelling.


How to Make an Old Story New

There are, of course, many ways to re-tell a story. You do it all the time when you're telling your friend what happened on the latest episode of New Girl, or when you're describing the jerk at work whose sour attitude always spoils your day (I hope you've more experience with the former, not the latter!). So that's your story telling backbone. Now, take a fairy tale you know a little something about -- it doesn't have to be well -- and try some of these exercises on it to see how you like the story you've created.

I'll start with my favorite:

  • Write the story from the point of view of the "evil stepmother/brother/witch/sorcerer" and make the reader sympathetic to them. OR, and this is maybe even better, make the sympathetic character the evil one (ie, Cinderella's really a nasty, scheming gold-digger).
  • Replicate the story exactly, but change the setting to a contemporary landscape. For example, Francesca Lia Block updated Cupid and Psyche by turning them into a couple who met on an online dating site. (It's a GREAT story! Read it!)
  • Combine two fables. See where the original stories intersect and create your own based on that comingling. (like the little Mermaid meets Leda's swan)

« Léda et le cygne », huile sur bois (H. 64,5 cm ; l. 80,5 cm) réalisée avant 1600 par Pierre Paul Rubens (1577-1640) - Œuvre faisant partie de la collection Stephen Mazoh en dépôt au musée des beaux-arts de Houston (États-Unis). Photographie réalisée lors de l'exposition temporaire l'Europe de Rubens - Musée du Louvre (Lens).

  • Ms Litterati recommends this, and it sounds like loads of fun: take away the magic. "A fairytale without magic sounds completely ludicrous at first but it’s a way to put a fresh twist on your story. Think about the movie A Cinderella Story: it follows the storyline of Cinderella without having an actual fairy godmother to wave her wand and help transform Sam, the “Cinderella” character."
  • Copy the plot of a fairy tale, then put in characters from another book. Everyone handles situations differently. Just imagine if Hermione were in Harry Potter's place...

What are you ideas on how to revamp a fairy tale? Link to your story in the comments if you want to share one!

Ours is a highly individualized culture, with a great faith in the work of art as a unique one-off, and the artist as an original, a godlike and inspired creator of unique one-offs. But fairy tales are not like that, nor are their makers. Who first invented meatballs? In what country? Is there a definitive recipe for potato soup? Think in terms of the domestic arts. "This is how I make potato soup." --Angela Carter

Remember to sign up on our mailing list for actionable advice about self-publishing and fantasy writing. Plus, I'll send you a copy of Scheherazade for free!