The Fairytale Code: Write a great story using Fairytale Elements

One of the things we love to do at My Book Therapy is “break it down.” Just what does it take to write a great story?

Fairytales capture our imagination in many ways. The art of creating worlds full of the supernatural, good verses evil and true love have been around since… well, The Garden.

The elements of traditional fairytales are often found in fantasy and modern day science fiction. And of course, love stories.

This week and next, I want to break down the technical fundamentals of a fairytale. You’ll see we use them in our “non fairytale” stories as well.

Story world. All stories must have some story world, but those with a fairytale element, must have a rich, dynamic story world. The characters’ world must go beyond four walls. There must be some mystical element, surreal and incredible about their world.

In Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” television series, the heroes lived on a “boat” called Serenity, flying through “the black.” Their earth was a spaceship. Surreal, if not unreal. Incredible.

In Cinderella’s world, the Disney version, she talked to animals and birds. We don’t. But she does. It’s surreal, incredible.
You must create an element of the “supernatural” for your fairytale stories. In literature we see witches, good and bad, magic, fairies, trolls, wizards and talking mice.

In romance, how does this play? In my book The Wedding Dress, I used the supernatural occurrence of the Lord appearing to my heroines Emily, in 1912 and Charlotte, 2012. He was distinguished by the color he wore: purple.

In Once Upon A Prince, there is a homeless woman who taps into the Divine to push Susanna along her journey. (Don’t want to say more. You have to read the book.)

Lessons. Every fairytale is about a lesson. We are going to learn something as the reader or viewer. We’re inspired to be better. Do well. The lessons can be both obvious or symbolic.

In George McDonald’s Photogen and Nycteris, a wicked witch manipulates two pregnant women to give her their children. Photogen is a boy trained to live only in the day. He never sees the night. Nycteris is a girl trained to live only in the night, in a cave. She never sees the sun nor the moon.

As the story unfolds, Nycteris disovers the moon, then the day as Photogen discovers the night. And they are frightened of what they do not know,what they do not understand. The lesson is obvious. Back to Cinderella. The lesson is humility and love. We see it by her actions.

Personified evil. Fairytales are famous for the witch, the wolf, and the wizard. Elements of evil are given breath and a heart beat, words. In fiction, we call it the villain or the antagonist.

But what is great about the personified evil is how it makes us hate the evil all the more an root for good to triumph.

It’s one thing for Cinderella to have an unfair stepmom. Yeah, okay, it’s not pleasant but Cindy is surviving. Life is not fair, right? But the moment she manipulates against her and assigns her more work than she could possibly do in a day (supernatural element again showing up) we hate the stepmother. She’s evil. We cheer all the more for Cinderella.

Watho, the witch in McDonald’s story has a wolf inside her mind, representing her “animal” non human side. She is evil personified. When she is killed, in wolf form, we cheer.

It’s a nice touch too from McDonald to transform the human witch to her animal alter ego so our hero, Photogen does not kill a woman but a wolf. Subtle, but nice…

Evil can come in different ways in your stories but it must be tangible and real, effective.Firefly’s evil was the government and their sub humans called reavers. In Cinderella, it was her stepmom. In The Wedding Dress, it was Jim Crow laws.

Awakened Desire. All stories must be about a journey. The protagonist must desire something. Your story, all stories, are about the moment when the protagonist must choose to go for their desire/dream or quit and live the rest of their lives in fear/cleaning Drizella’s nasty shoes.

In McDonald’s story, Nycteris began to wonder about the door her keep, Falca, and Watho, entered and exited. What was beyond her cave?
Cinderella starred toward the palace each morning and sang of love coming to find her.

In Once Upon A Prince, Susanna wanted to find what God purposed for her after her own plans fell apart.

In The Wedding Dress, Charlotte had to discover the history of a hundred year old gown that looked brand new!

Awakened desire is a part of every character journey. It is what pushes the protagonist beyond their fears and limitations toward her destiny.

What makes the desire journey more fairytaleish? The supernatural breaking in. In The Wedding Dress, I used a man in purple. In Once Upon A Prince, the homeless woman aided Susanna.

In Love Starts With Elle, I used white feathers appearing out of nowhere.

This element may not work for you or the type of story you are writing, but how can you show your spiritual thread through the supernatural or the Divine?

Instead of having the characters say a prayer, why not have introduce a fragrance whenever your heroine needs guidance. Be creative. Ask the Lord to teach you!

So, your assignment, should you choose to accept it, read George McDonald’s Photogen and Nycteris. If you Google it, you’ll find it online.

Next week, we’ll continue with elements of fairy tales.

Rachel Hauck, Write a book proposalBest-selling, award-winning author Rachel Hauck loves a great story. She excels in seeing the deeper layers of a story. With a love for teaching and mentoring, Rachel comes alongside writers to help them craft their novel.

A worship leader, board member of ACFW and popular writing teacher, Rachel is the author of over 15 novels. She lives in Florida with her husband and her dog, Lola. Contact her at:

Go forth and write!

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