How to Write a Fairy Tale
Fairy tales have been in the world for a long time because they follow a pattern that is easy to recognize. Though each story is different in its details, each fairy tale takes a normal person through a heroic journey. This journey often also contains a life lesson; characters who act good are usually rewarded with happy endings while characters who act bad are often punished. When you learn the pattern that makes up all fairy tales, you can learn to write one yourself.
"Once Upon a Time"
Fairy tales often begin with "once upon a time" because a successful story begins by somehow setting the scene. It's important to establish the main character that your story will be about by showing where she is at the beginning of her journey. The website ABC Teach suggests starting either with who ("Once there was a princess who ..."), with when ("Long, long ago ..."), or with where ("In a distant land ..."). However you begin, your main character should be a normal, everyday person -- she will become more extraordinary as she goes through her fairy tale journey.
The Hero's Call to Action
Your main character begins his fairy tale journey when he gets a call to act and go on an adventure. Like Jack, who chose to climb the beanstalk, or Cinderella, who chose to get into the magic pumpkin and go to the ball, fairy tale heroes have to say yes to the challenge that is presented to them. Usually this journey involves an event or person who invites the hero forward, and the hero accepts and moves into unknown land. For example, if you begin your story with a servant boy going into the woods every day to gather firewood, he could begin his hero adventure by one day running into an old woman who asks him to follow her, or by finding a mysterious key. The hero's curiosity moves him forward.
The Hero's Trials
Your average main character has to experience trials in order to grow into the hero she will be at the end of the story. You can make these trials physical, like fighting a dragon or wandering through a strange forest. The trial might be outsmarting a villain, such as a witch, wicked step-mother or evil king. The trial might also be inside the character, as when the ugly duckling has to feel good about being different from his duckling siblings. Even if she doesn't consider herself a hero, your main character becomes the hero of your story when you write that she is strong enough to survive the trials.
Your Own "Ever After"
End your fairy tale by showing where the heroes and villains end up at the end of the journey. Usually, good and brave characters are rewarded, and villains are punished. According to Scholastic Inc., readers enjoy tales "in which truth prevails over deception, generosity is ultimately rewarded, hard word overcomes obstacles, and love, mercy and kindness are the greatest powers of all." As the writer and creator of your own fairy tale, how you end up at your own "happily ever after" is completely up to you.
Margaret Everton is a Portland, Ore.-based writer. She often writes about architecture and design, and has worked for companies like Houzz and CalFinder, among others. While living in Los Angeles, she ran a design studio. She earned a Master of Fine Arts from Brigham Young University in 2003.