In this month’s resource guide, we’ve scoured the Internet to find you all the sources you need to repurpose a traditional tale into a new story: the process, the best tips, and all the material you need to get started.
Traditional or fairy tales like those told by the Brothers Grimm have stood the test of time; many of them have been told and retold for hundreds of years. There are several advantages to using the framework of a fairy tale to create a new story:
- Traditional tales have a beautiful narrative arc that can inform the structure of your story whether it’s a short or novel-length narrative
- When readers approach your story, the reference to a well-known tale can create a germ of familiarity that creates an automatic bond with the reader and draws them in
- You can create a dialogue with the original story and become part of a tradition of retellings, placing you, as the author, among interesting company!
Before we get to the sources of fairy tale material, here are a few tips for planning your story:
- Pick out a fairy tale or traditional folktale that speaks to you. As likely as not, you’ll spend a significant amount of time with this story and you want it to really resonate with you.
- Read multiple versions of the same tale. This way you can see what other authors have done with the story and maybe get some ideas of your own.
- Pick out the important elements to keep. There may be themes, morals, plot elements, structures, or characters that must stay to maintain some integrity for the story – decide what is essential before you start to strip elements away. Remember, you don’t want to change the main “point” of the story; otherwise, it can become an unrelated story that was simply “inspired by” the tale (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, depending on what you want).
- Decide on what you want to change. There are many elements in fairy tales that you can play with. For example, you could:
- Change the time or place
- Change the main character’s gender
- Change the ending
- Change the genre or tone (make the story dark, or comedic, or sci-fi, etc.)
- Put the traditional characters in a new place or time
- Change the starting or ending point of the story
- Create a prequel or sequel to the story
- Change the POV (to the villain, for example)
- Switch the roles of the protagonist and antagonist
- Create a crossover between two or more tales
- Change plot elements by asking “What if” questions (What if the princess rescued herself before the prince got there?)
- Do some brief research on the rights to the story. Many fairy tales are public domain because they were originally published over 70 years ago; however, some (like Snow White) are now owned by corporations (like Disney) who have already redone the tale. Make note of what you can and can’t use, like character names.
- Plan and outline a brief version of your new story. Does it make sense? Are there any major plot holes right off the top?
- Flesh out your characters just like they’re new. Don’t be lazy because the characters already exist – make sure you know how each character would adapt to their new circumstances, whatever they may be.
- Get to the writing! Writing within certain limits can be particularly freeing for your creativity, as you don’t have to make up every detail but can experiment with the elements within the structure of your story.
Where to Get Fairy-Tale Material
You can always head over to Amazon or your bookseller of choice and load up on fairy-tale books (like Jack Zipes’ Brothers Grimm collection). You can also find all the public-domain fairy tales online for free, and we’ve collected them all here for your browsing pleasure. The sheer amount of fairy tales, folk tales, and traditional stories can be overwhelming, so they are split into categories by collector and region.
Famous Tale Collectors
Some of these have links to plot summaries from the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and others do not. Regardless, this page is a great overview to see if there are titles that jump out at you.
Full-text translations that can be read online or downloaded for all 209 Grimm’s fairy tales.
Aesop is presumed to be a slave that lived in Greece around 600 BCE, and Aesop’s Fables are brief tales that each come with some kind of moral lesson.
This link contains full texts for most of the 168 fairy tales by Hans Christian Anderson, many of which you will find familiar!
From 1889 to 1910, Andrew Lang compiled 12 books of fairy stories. At this site you’ll find the complete text of each.
These stories are from various cultures and explain how the world came to be, in each perspective.
Regional Fairy Tales
This link includes the full text for 32 famous Russian fairy tales.
This free e-book has a list of 66 folktales from Iceland including stories about elves, trolls, sea monsters, and ghosts.
This free e-book has a collection of Norse tales that may contain some familiar fairy-tale characters. For another collection of Fairy Tales from the Far North, go here.
This collection is divided up into regions of Sweden and translated from Swedish into English.
Text for 29 simple Finnish folktales that have been edited for children.
This is an incredibly in-depth list of 249 Celtic folktales along with a full text of each. If you’re ready to jump down the rabbit hole, dive in!
A list of popular fairy tales, many familiar, to start you off on your fairy-tale search. For more, check out this link.
This link includes full texts of Arabian, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and Filipino folktales that have been simplified for children.
This link includes texts of South African, Nigerian, and Tanzanian folktales. For a few more South African tales, head here.
These include folktales from indigenous sources as well as folktales from around the US and Canada.
These two online books include fairy tales from Brazil and stories about giants.
Remember to enjoy the process! Picking out a fairy tale and reworking it can be rewarding and fun – AND it can make fans out of readers who might never have picked up your book in the first place.
Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments!