Once Upon a Time: Writing Fractured Fairy Tales

A fairy tale is a traditional short story which features magical or fantastical elements, like dragons, witches, ogres, talking animals and magic.

They aren’t necessarily tied to particular locations or real events, but instead, they happen ‘once upon a time’.

We all probably know at least one fairy tale, but turning it on its head can be a real challenge.

This type of story is known as a fractured fairy tale, as it takes apart a well-known story and rearranges the pieces to create something totally unique.

We all know that Cinderella loses her glass slipper at midnight and that Little Red Riding Hood is fooled by the Big Bad Wolf.

But what if Jack lost his magic beans and someone else found them? What if Rumpelstiltskin could turn straw into wishes instead of gold? What if Sleeping Beauty was transported into her own dreamland where she had her own adventures?

Fractured fairy tales are all about the ‘what ifs’ of the story, exploring brand new angles of the classic narrative to create something that’s totally original.

What’s more, because everyone will look at a story in a completely different way, the same plot can be transformed into countless new adventures!

If you’re intrigued by fractured fairy tales, why not check out our brand new winter writing competition, which challenges you to write a 500-word retelling of ‘The Snow Queen’!

Taking apart a classic tale is an amazing way to flex your creative muscles, so we’ve included just a few of the ways you can retell a story in our handy tips below:

Stock Characters

We all know about the protagonists, but fairy tales are home to far more characters — cackling witches, fire-breathing dragons and big bad wolves. Why not write a story from their perspective?

Will Rumpelstiltskin ever have a child of his own, does Gaston ever find a wife?

Challenging Convention

Who says that the princess can’t be friends with the dragon guarding her tower, or that the three little pigs aren’t really so innocent after all?

Here’s your chance to explore the other side of the story!

Location, Location, Location

Fractured fairy tales don’t need to take place in a land far away and changing the setting can give a brand new perspective.

What if Little Red Riding Hood lived in a big city, or Rapunzel’s tower was really a tower block? What if Cinderella didn’t want to go to the ball, but a ballgame instead?

Happily Ever After?

Now’s your opportunity to explore what came after the end, or how the characters came to be.

What happened to the Magic Mirror after Snow White became queen? What were the three little pigs like when they were piglets?

Switching it up

What happens to the story when you switch up genders, ethnicities or nationalities?

What if the prince fell in love with a beautiful woman under the waves, and desperately wished to become a merman instead?  

Behind the Scenes

The main plot of a fairy tale has stayed the same throughout the centuries, but it doesn’t need to stay that way. New characters, plot points or scenarios can add a fun twist on the classic.

What if the first little pig had let the wolf in? What if Goldilocks went to the next house along, home to a family of racoons?

Keeping it Simple

Fairy tales may be short and sweet, but your retelling doesn’t need to include the entire original plot. There are so many memorable moments in the classic tales, so try focusing your retelling on a particular scene.

What about Dorothy’s first impression of Oz, Alice’s fall into Wonderland, or the moment the Witch catches Hansel and Gretel?

Role Reversal

A classic fairy tale always features a protagonist and an antagonist, but what if their roles are exchanged?

How do the Giants feel when Jack is trespassing into their Kingdom? What if Aladdin was seeking fame and not the heart of the princess?

Knowing the Theme

The biggest challenge with this form of storytelling is pinpointing what element of the original you’d like to twist.

Is it the classic plot structure?

The appearance of magical creatures, fairies or witches?

An archetypal character in a brand new setting?

No matter which elements from the original you bring into your retelling, focus first on capturing the theme.

A theme isn’t the same as the moral or plot; it’s the big idea that the story is trying to communicate.

You can keep hold of the original theme or turn it on its head, but there must be some echo of what your original fairy tale tried to say.

Even if your retelling is a shadow of the original, if you stay true to the theme, you’re onto a winner. Take a look at some classic examples and their themes below:

Little Red Riding Hood

Coming of Age: Little Red Riding Hood disobeys her parents’ instructions, naively believes the wolf, is gobbled up but emerges from the wolf’s stomach a lot wiser.

Jack and the Beanstalk

Triumph over adversity: Jack overcomes the towering giant, the derision from his mother and lives happily ever after.


Rags to Riches: After her father dies, Cinderella is mistreated until magical help arrives and she falls in true love with a handsome prince. 

Beauty and the Beast

Sacrifice: the Beast sacrifices his human form as punishment for turning away a stranger, but Belle sacrifices her freedom to save her father.

Snow White

Corruption of Pride: The Evil Queen is obsessed with youth and beauty and is ultimately consumed by envy, while Snow White is beloved for her innocence.

Making it New

Fairy tales have endured for centuries, but they’re certainly not stuck in the past. Whenever a story was told, tiny changes transformed the tale, evolving every time. 

We may think they are outdated, but they’re an amazing way to explore how tradition and modernity weave together. 

Don’t feel confined by setting, time period, or even the gender and social constraints of the original.

Remember: not every girl dreams of going to the ball and not every boy wants to slay the dragon.

A great way to explore a fractured fairy tale is through subversion, where you throw convention out the window and switch the story around.

Why can’t the damsel in distress save herself? Why can’t the baddies have a heart?

Remember Your Audience

Once upon a time, fairy tales served a purpose.

Don’t wander into strangers’ houses!


Don’t leave the path!


Don’t eat apples given to you by scary women in the forest!

It’s tempting to put a moral at the forefront when tackling a fractured fairy tale, but the moral of the story isn’t what’s made it survive.

Fairy tales have lasted for centuries because they’ve been entertaining, capable of being retold again and again throughout the generations. 


If you do want to include a moral, it should never overwhelm the plot. Always let your readers understand and interpret the layers of your story on their own.

Remember: resist the urge to teach your readers!

Winter Writing Competition 2018!

Writing a fairy tale retelling can certainly be a challenge, but it’s an amazing opportunity to test your imagination. Our tips are especially useful if you’re taking part in our incredible winter competition and creating your own retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Snow Queen’! 

Our competition is open to everyone, whether you’re enrolled onto our courses or not. If you’d like to try something a little different, we’re also running our winter competition on our sister courses, WriteRomanceFiction and WriteStorybooks. There are more chances to take part than ever!

If you’d like to take part but don’t know where to start, take a look at some of our storybook suggestions to kickstart your creativity…

The Snow Queen’s Mirror

In the original story, the splinters from the Snow Queen’s evil troll-mirror brings sadness and evil into the world.

But what form would the mirror take if you brought the story into the modern day?

A never-ending winter

We don’t really know what happens to the Snow Queen after the story ends.

What happens if she decides to turn over a new leaf and move somewhere completely new and sunny? What if she teams up with a certain resident of the North Pole? 

Fairytale and Friendship

The Snow Queen isn’t just about an icy antagonist. In the classic tale, Kai is struck by a splinter of the troll-mirror and is whisked away by the Snow Queen to her winter palace.

His best friend, Gerda, sets out on a wintery quest to find him. What would have happened if she enlisted another fairytale character to help her quest? 

We all know at least one fairy tale off by heart, but how is it possible to re-tell a story that’s been told a million times before?

The truth is that all fairy tales have evolved over centuries being told time and time again. They’ve advanced with each retelling and dozens of variations are told differently all over the world.

Every single storyteller sees a story in their own way. All you need to do is figure out how you want to tell it.

We’ve already mentioned quite a few stories throughout our blog, but here are some classic fairy tales
to get you started. How many have you read?

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