Advice on Writing a Fairy Tale Retelling

If you’ve ever written, or tried to write, a fairy tale retelling, you’ll know that it’s not at all the same as writing any other story. Though you have a great deal of creative license, you can’t simply take the story exactly where you want it to go. You must stick to at least a skeleton of the original tale. Your finished story must be recognizable when compared to the original, whether in theme, character, plot line, or some other way.

I know many of you are writers, and almost all of you are fairy tale admirers. So perhaps these tips on writing a fairy tale retelling will help or inspire you in some way. I observed my own method and wrote down the brainstorming process I go through before attempting a retelling.

Retelling Pic

Please do yourself a huge favor and, before anything else, research the original fairy tale. All versions of the original, in fact, because sometimes there are more than one. I love Disney as much as the next person, and if you feel it’s necessary to base your story off the Disney version, by all means go right ahead. But only after you’ve researched the original version(s). And only after you’ve come up with a very unique spin on your own retelling. Sometimes the original version opens up ideas in your mind that you never would suspect otherwise, makes you ask questions you didn’t know you had. For example: Why did Cinderella’s father (still alive, by the way, and not dead like the Disney version tells it) stand idly by and watch all the horrible things Cinderella’s stepmother put her through?

So . . . yeah. I’m aware this is a question that all authors ask about every story they write. Or so I assume. How else can you come up with something original? When writing a retelling, this part is actually simpler than when you write a unique tale. Instead of asking “what if” to questions you have to come up with to begin with, you get to ask “what if” to a theme/plot/climax that has already been written for you. Easy, right? Start by making a list of all the things you personally expect when you think of the particular fairy tale you plan on retelling.

Story: Aladdin. A central object: Magic lamp. What if: The lamp wasn’t magical? What if: The lamp wasn’t a lamp at all, but some other object? What if: The lamp didn’t contain a genie who would grant three wishes, but instead a demon who dispersed three curses? The possibilities are endless.

You need to have strong feelings about where your story takes place. Take a setting you love – or even hate – and drop your story there. What happens? How do these unique settings change elements of your story? Make the location original, detailed, even surprising. Throw it into contrast with the mood of your story, or with what would normally be expected. Write the setting almost as if it were a person, make it come alive, and make your characters engage with it and react to it in sensory ways. This is another principle that works with just about any story; however, with a fairy tale retelling it can add an extra punch simply because the original story is so very well known. That means that a fresh and unexpected setting for such a well-worn tale will have that much more fascination for the readers.

This one is done a lot, although it never seems to lose popularity. There are just so many variations that the possibilities seem endless. I did it myself in A Wish Made of Glass, writing a loose version of the Cinderella fairy tale from the POV of the stepsister. Try it yourself for the story you plan to retell. Choose a different character in the story, or perhaps create a brand new character and plunk her into the middle of the fairy tale. How do the events of the story appear to this person? How is she effected by them? Will she do something that spins the rest of the tale into an exciting new direction?

This is one of my favorites, and I used it in the most recent retelling I wrote (finished only a few days ago!). It’s pretty self-explanatory: Take the fairy tale you’d like to retell and mesh it with another fairy tale . . . or even another story that’s NOT a fairy tale. The Little Mermaid meets Blackbeard. Rapunzel meets Henry VIII. Sleeping Beauty meets Die Hard. This is so creatively attractive to me because of the wild possibilities that open up when weaving two (or more) unlikely stories together. You are forced to push both stories to the limit, bend them into unexpected shapes, watch as the characters meet each other and do unpredictable deeds. How could you NOT come up with a fun and exciting twist?

Take your fairy tale completely out of the fairy tale/fantasy genre. Maybe even take it out of the time period in which it is set. Using your imagination, before writing anything at all, just picture what the events of the given fairy tale would look like in another genre. What would happen to Hansel and Gretel if they wandered into a mysterious, remote factory run by a cyborg witch who, instead of eating them, wanted to use them as guinea pigs for cutting-edge scientific experimentation?

This is one of my favorites. Choose an element of the fairy tale as your centerpiece. Maybe it’s the magical beanstalk in Jack and the Beanstalk. Maybe it’s the thought of a long, enchanted slumber as in Sleeping Beauty. Or maybe it’s a particular favorite character of yours, such as the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. After you’ve chosen your centerpiece, begin building a story AROUND it. Remember to also sprinkle elements of the original story, in whatever detail or capacity you choose, as you build your NEW story. In A Wish Made of Glass, I took the glass slippers themselves and gave them supposed powers: the ability to hold their wearer’s heart within them. I included elements of the original story as well. Stepsisters who must deal with the remarriage and neglect of their parents, a loose version of a “fairy godmother” in the form of the fey folk who live in the forest, etc.

Many times after choosing a centerpiece to base your story around, ideas will begin to flood your imagination about HOW you can use that piece, whatever or whoever it may be, in unique and new ways. Brainstorm, let your imagination fly free for a while before you begin to write, and the story you come up with may surprise you.

I’m curious, have you ever dreamed of writing a fairy tale retelling? Maybe you’ve already written one (or more!). I’d love to hear about the inspiration for your story, or the story you plan to write one day. Tell me in the comments below.

Stories and More Stories

So many writerly things happening lately. After being on a bit of a (if unasked-for) hiatus for a year, these past several months my imagination has felt the need to make up for lost time. After about a month of simply trying to get the skeletons of all my ideas down on paper, I finally had to take a step back and decide which one to pursue first. As you may remember from a previous post, I chose to focus on a chapter book for children (ages 7-12) and I am happy to announce today that my revisions for this story are finished at last.

You know what that means! I will be asking 2 or 3 beta readers to look over the story and offer feedback, criticism, and advice. Never having written anything in this age category before, I’ll admit I’m a little nervous of the results. But it was a story I felt I had to tell, so though it may need even more revisions, I am ready to share it with at least a few others at this point, and with everyone a short way down the road.

I wished to put off writing a full-length novel for the time being, simply because I have so many other things going on in my life that I know I don’t have the time to devote to it. Despite this, a story idea for a trilogy (YA fantasy of course!) has been stubbornly clamoring at the back of my mind for a long time now and I had to give in finally and at least write the outline for the first book . . . which led to writing the outline for the second and third books . . . which led to writing character sketches and fleshing out some scenes that I had in my mind . . . which . . . well, you get the point. This trilogy is daunting to me, and will probably not be written in full until some time in the future, but it is most certainly not an idea that is fading. The opposite, in fact. When characters start talking to you in the middle of every-day tasks on a daily basis, and when scenes play out so vividly in your head that you rush to the nearest scrap of paper to get them down, you know there’s no escaping the story.

In the meantime, to fill my time between outlining trilogies and revising a children’s book, I have also been working on some fantasy short stories which I would love to publish as a collection one day. So many of these ideas are so exciting to me, yet aren’t full enough for a novel. Answer? Put it in a short story! I’m so thrilled about some of these stories, I can’t wait to get all my ideas explored and written.

With my newly-written and revised children’s chapter book has also come my desire to add a few illustrations within the book itself. I won’t decide on this for certain until I’ve spoken with my agent and some others who have had experience to see if this is a feasible option. But it has led me lately to scouring book store aisles and Pinterest boards for samples of artwork that I admire.


Illustrations have such an impact on our feelings for a story. I’d love to know what some of your own favorite illustrations or artists are!

Also, what have you been up to this end-of-summer?

Fairy Tale Novella Contest and Cover Reveal

Rooglewood Press is delighted to introduce their third fairy tale novella contest—

Five Magic Spindles

a collection of “Sleeping Beauty” stories

Five Magic Spindles

The challenge is to write a retelling of the beloved fairy tale in any genre or setting you like. Make certain your story is recognizably “Sleeping Beauty,” but have fun with it as well. Make it yours!

Rooglewood Press will be selecting five winners to be published in the Five Magic Spindles collection, which will be packaged up with the phenomenal cover you see here. Maybe your name will be one of the five listed?

All the contest rules and information (how to enter, story details, deadline etc.) may be found on the Rooglewood Press website. Just click HERE and you will go right to the page.

Rooglewood Press’s first collection, Five Glass Slippers is available for purchase, and our second collection, Five Enchanted Roses is scheduled to launch on July 27, and is currently available for pre-order. Be certain to get a copy of each and see what previous winners did with their wonderful retellings.


*This cover illustration was rendered by Julia Popova, “ForestGirl.” You can find out more about this gifted artist on her website:

Book Blurb Blues

I’ve been in the process of writing and polishing the back cover description for my upcoming novella. And I’ll tell you the truth – it’s not fun at all. I keep wanting to shout, “But I’m a book writer, not a blurb writer! I’m good at unraveling my story over the long haul, not condensing all of it into a tight little space!”

I think it comes down to a few specific things that should be included. Here’s my very amateur go at it. Ready?

Setting: Things need to be mentioned in the blurb that give the reader an idea of where this story takes place and what open bookthey are walking into. Whatever these end up being – certain qualities/people/creatures/props – they should be given a nod in order to create a sense of setting. Many of these depend on the genre. Fantasy more so than most, I think.

Characters: Ok, no-brainer. The main character has to be introduced, along with any other character who is important to the plot as a whole. Maybe even the antagonist. After all, books are about people first and foremost, right?

Goals: More than just mentioning the main character, we have to know what she desires. What is the crux of her journey, whether it’s a physical, spiritual or emotional one? I want to know up front that this girl has something driving her forward. Otherwise I’ll suspect that I’m in for a yawn-worthy read.

Complication: Is there a person or circumstance that is thwarting her from her goal? Well, we need to know about that too. A little bit. Don’t give too much away, though. The reader will want to hear about it, certainly; otherwise, why open the book at all? But I personally have difficulty with this one. How much to tell without giving too much away and ruining important surprises, but making it enough that it creates curiosity in the reader? It’s a very fine line, my friend.

Stakes: What is at risk if the main character doesn’t (or perhaps does!) obtain what she wants? Will she lose her life? Her family? Her self-respect? Her cat? All of the above? Whatever the stakes are, a blurb-reader wants to know them up front. Or at least I always do. It puts that extra fire in me that says, “I just have to know what happens!!”

Hope: So the poor main character has been given an ultimatum, a timeframe to achieve something, a roadblock that is seemingly impassable. What now? Well again, a simple blurb can’t give too much away. But we at least need to see that glimmer – that small flash of hope that tells us things might be … could be … all right.

Brevity: Ah, brevity, my bane. It’s like trying to fit my post-baby self into the size 4 jeans I wore a few short years ago. Not likely. I need a serious word diet to get the 25,000 words of my novella into a 200-word blurb. It’s painful, I’m not gonna lie. It takes lots of trimmings and re-writes. Lots.

So …. aaallll these things need to fit into a blurb? Yep. Ok, well, most of them. Some of them can be accomplished with a few very choice words. Some of them, such as setting, can be almost implied between the lines without ever mentioning directly at all.

Yep, I’ve got my work cut out for me.

So what are the things that draw you in when you read a book blurb? What is most likely to get you to pick up a book and say, “I have to take this home and read it right now!”

An Allegorical God

God in allegory. Even though I’m an allegorical writer myself, I often have issues with this one. Well, maybe not issues. Let’s just say I approach it carefully.

God is sovereign. God is almighty and all-knowing. His ways are not our ways. How, then, can any writer really do wood thrushHim justice in an allegory? We seek to know Him, but we’ll never know Him completely. Not on this side of death, anyway. If we did, He wouldn’t be God, right? But if we don’t understand Him, how can we write about Him in a way that will satisfy readers who want to see Him in all His wonderful, awe-inspiring glory?

I don’t have a cut and dried answer for this, really. I only know what I prefer when I read allegory, and the rules I personally follow when I write God into an allegorical story of my own.


An allegorical representation of God should be as mysterious as the true God. So we don’t understand all the facets of this God-character we write about. So our readers don’t. That’s ok. Use the mystery to good effect. Let the unknown deepen the reader’s experience of this God whose ways are not ours, and thus deepen their awe of Him.


Large or tiny. Roaring or whispering. God is anything but a lukewarm, mediocre Being. C.S. Lewis uses a great lion to represent God in his Chronicles of Narnia. In one scene of my book I represented God as a field mouse, whispering encouraging directions in the ear of the protagonist before a battle. Anne Elisabeth Stengl represents the holy spirit with a wood thrush, which I absolutely love. Whether it be intriguing, awe-inspiring, or even quirky, the character a writer chooses to represent God has to be worthy of the reader’s attention and respect.

aslan roar


God is to be feared. We fear His wrath, His judgment, His anger when we have chosen to disregard His Word. But take away that fear and you’re left with little love and no respect at all. That’s not a the type of ruler I’d want to follow. Whatever creature or person a writer chooses to use as her representation of God within her story, it should be one whose actions and power inspire a healthy fear. God has the power over life and death and time and all the earth. Fiction shouldn’t show Him as anything less.


Yet beyond the fear, a writer must be sure to show the deep and unconditional love God has for His creation. Fear alone can perhaps turn our heads and keep in our minds what will happen if we stray. But it’s love that binds us to Him, heart and soul. It’s God’s mercy and forgiveness and sacrifice that give us the passion to follow Him to the ends of the earth. So why should an allegorical God be any different?

Do you have any preferences when reading Christian allegory? What are the things you like to see in a symbolic fictional God figure?

True Evil in Christian Fiction: Where Do You Stand?

Two things happened recently which made me want to explore this question, which is a rather broad one: Should there be evil … true evil … in Christian fiction?

The first thing that made me begin thinking about it was a conversation I had with a family member. She told me that she couldn’t understand why books had to be so full of evil. She just wanted to be able to pick up a book that gave her a sense of peace and happiness. Why bad guys? Why horrible obstacles?

The second thing that made me question this was a 1-star Goodreads reviewer who emailed to explain to me that she didn’t enjoy my book because it was “filled with witchcraft and premarital romance.” This example is a bit extreme, especially if you’ve read my book, and I have to admit I didn’t let it effect me greatly. In my book the small amount of magic used is certainly not glorified (although magic is a whole other blog post, honestly …). Also, I’m happy to say that I myself didn’t venture into marital romance without a bit of premarital romance first … I’m afraid of what the consequences would have been if I had, and certainly wouldn’t wish such a thing on my characters or anyone else! 🙂

However, after hearing the words and views of my reviewer and of my relative, I still had to wonder. Where does evil have its place in Christian fiction? What do you, as evil in christian fictionreaders and Christians, believe?

Is magic wrong, even when it is used solely by the antagonist? Is romance (the holding hands, kissing, puppy love kind) wrong for Christian teens (or anyone else, for that matter) to see? Where do you draw the line? And is it wrong to depict evil – you know, the kind that makes you shiver and feel like your stomach has dropped – within the confines of a Christian story with a God-glorifying theme?

I’ll admit, sometimes my tastes in reading and my personal beliefs don’t perfectly coincide. I suspect we’re all guilty of this in one way or another. I like reading about epic battles, and magic, and mysterious murders. Does that mean I’m going to grab a sword and run someone through, or sit pining for my letter from Hogwarts to come … or worse yet, go kill someone? No, not even a teensy bit.

In my opinion, reading about sin only becomes a sin itself when you find pleasure in the evil you see. More so when you not only take pleasure in reading about it, but take it to the next level and perhaps indulge in it yourself. As I heard Bob Ross say (as he was painting happy trees …) on a recent re-run, “You have to add the dark to make the light more striking.” He was speaking about painting, of course, but the minute he said those words, I thought, “Yes! That’s exactly it!” And so it is.

It was much like I told my relative after she expressed her concern over evil in stories. I explained to her that, as a writer myself, my desire is for my stories to mirror the world we live in, the battles (sometimes invisible) we fight every day against an evil that is all too real. To show the reader that evil (whether it takes the form of magic or murder or any other immoral thing), and then to show her a heroine much like herself who overcomes that evil … what could be more powerful than that? What else could leave such a deep sense of peace? Even – no, especially – if that hero or heroine overcomes the evil with grace and mercy and love, things God fully intends us to overcome our real-life troubles with.

So where do all these preferences and beliefs, so seemingly at war with each other, leave me? With several questions, actually, for myself and for you:

  1. Where do we draw the line when reading for entertainment about things we may not morally agree with?
  2. What if truly evil things come only from the antagonist in a story? Are they still wrong to read about?
  3. If we protect ourselves from all thoughts, books, and talk of the things we don’t believe in or agree with, what could be the possible consequences of that, for better or worse?
  4. How much responsibility do we take, as readers, for the direction of our thoughts and actions in relation to what we read, and how much responsibility lies with the author? What does that responsibility entail (for reader or author?).

You, as my readers and friends, have opinions that are extremely important to me. Opinions that I want – and need – to hear, if my future books are to be ones you will want to read. So what do you think? Do you have answers to any of these questions? Opinions? Questions of your own? I want to hear them!


For some interesting and varying thoughts on magic and romance in Christian fiction, you may want to check out these articles:

Standing Up for Magic

Fantasy Magic and the Christian Author

Magic in Christian Fantasy

How Far Should Couples Go in Christian Fiction?

First Drafts and Dragons

first draft 2

Well, my friends, I am feeling a strange mixture of utter relief and tension right now. It’s the feeling that comes when a first draft is finished (relief), and edits loom large (tension) ….

Yes, you heard me. Mere minutes ago I typed the last sentence of my book. It is the second of a series I am working on (I finished the first draft of the first book earlier this year). It’s a thrilling feeling, to say the least! Especially as this is a bigger undertaking than I’ve ever tackled before. From a girl who has written only standalones, a series is a daunting task. As of now I have written the first two books, and have many plans and ideas for the third book, although it may be a while before I begin officially working on it.

What, you ask, are these books about? Well, I’m always a bit reluctant to say much about my WIPs while they are still in first-draft form – even to my own family! But I will give you a few clues.

Firstly, there are dragons. And anyone who knows me knows how much I adore dragons. I’ve longed to put them in a book for many years, but dragon1hadn’t found the right story for them until now. And I’m so excited about them, although to be honest, a little nervous about how I’ve pulled it off …!

Secondly, and probably obviously, these books are of the Christian fantasy genre, just as The Word Changers was. There is an element of allegory, an element of mystery, a great deal of adventure and intrigue and danger, and a bit of romance.

Thirdly, these books are told from multiple points of view. There are two protagonists – one is a male and one is a female. The story is told alternately from their viewpoints, something else I’ve wanted to do for a long time but didn’t quite have the courage for. The male viewpoint was a difficult one, and when I’m editing I’m sure I will have to sharpen his voice and think many manly thoughts in order to get it just right …! Perhaps some of the men in my life will be willing to read the book and offer their wisdom! 😉 😉

I am giving myself a week or two off before I begin edits. And by “off,” I mean that I will probably just tackle another writing project while I wait.  A short story, perhaps … or maybe a brand new book. I’ve got ideas for both of those things rattling around in my brain right now, so we’ll see.

So thanks to those who prayed for me and encouraged me as I struggled through the ending of this book (you know who you are!), and to those of you who I pray get to read these labors sometime in the distant future. I truly couldn’t do it without you, or without God, the true Author of all our stories.

Have a blessed weekend!

My Writing Process

I was tagged in this fun writing process blog tour by two of my favorite bloggers, Deborah and Sarah. So here we go!

What I am working on.

I recently finished the first draft of another YA fantasy, and am already about halfway through the sequel to it. When I’m finished with the sequel, my plan is to edit and revise both of the books at the same time. I also have a couple of short stories I hope to writehand writing soon (we’ll see if I have time!). In the midst of all of that, several weeks ago a brand new book idea (middle-grade fantasy this time!) dropped on me from nowhere, and I couldn’t help writing down a rough outline for it … I’m super excited about it, of course, although it will be a while before I can begin working on it.

How my work differs from others of its genre.

I love reading entertaining books, funny books, serious books, meaningful books. And though I’ve wanted to write books like that for as long as I can remember, I’ve always felt I couldn’t simply just write an entertaining story. My stories, as I hope my life does as well, point toward God. And I hope that they not only do that, but that they also tell my readers something new, or unsuspected, about their faith, God, or their relationship to Him.

Why I write what I write.

While I enjoy fantasy more than any other genre, I feel also that fantasy serves my purposes better – the purpose of reaching people in a way that’s not preachy or moralizing, but instead natural and even surprising. What could be more unexpected about a fantastical fairy tale world than finding a path leading you right back to your true home? I talk about why I write fantasy in more detail in this blog post, if you’re interested!

keyboardMy writing process.

My usual process for a book goes something like this:

  1. First draft (usually takes between 6-9 months)
  2. When finished with my first draft, I like to work on something completely different, or simply concentrate on reading, while my manuscript sits for 1-2 weeks.
  3. Now come the “big picture” revisions – that is, fixing structural things that don’t flow right, plot lines that are out of skew, character arcs that don’t work, scenes that are out of place or need to be cut altogether … etc.
  4. For my second round of revisions I normally concentrate on things like dialogue, descriptions, wording, flow, and grammatical errors.
  5. In the past I haven’t used beta readers – but that has changed! I look forward to being able to send my newer manuscripts to some trusted writers/friends who will be able to give me a sound critique of my work.
  6. After the beta readers have given their advice, and I have changed anything that needs to be changed, off goes the manuscript to my agent, and from there … who knows! Maybe more edits and revisions … maybe straight into the hands of editors or publishers.

Currently, as a stay-at-home mom, I don’t have an actual writing schedule I stick to. I wish I could! But it’s just impossible right now. This coming school year, though, I hope to implement a fairly strict writing routine, and to become more consistently productive. Daily word counts … here I come!


I am supposed to tag others to post answers to these topics as well, but instead I’ll just leave it up to you. Any of my followers who would like to fill everyone in on their own writing process (if you write!), fire away! Leave your answers in the comments, or post it on your own blog and leave the link below. I look forward to hearing from you!

Begin and End with Faith

Everything I’ve done up to now has started with faith.

The faith of my parents when I was only a little girl, handing them a scribbled story.

The faith I’ve been taught God has in me as a soul of worth, as a creature who belongs to Him, and the endless love that accompanies that faith.

The faith of family and friends who have prayed for me and encouraged me both in life and in the growing of my creativity.

The faith of a husband and son who have left me alone for countless hours to wrestle with the characters and stories in my head.bird1

The faith of an agent and a publisher who were willing to take a chance on both me and my book.

And, of course, the faith of you, the readers.

Sure, a lot of people are willing to pay a few dollars for a book that catches their fancy. But fewer of them are willing to invest precious hours of their time to dive into its story, bond with its characters, and open themselves to be changed by its message. That takes an enormous amount of faith – one I hope I never disappoint.

So thanks to you, my readers and future readers and even you “maybe” readers and “just-passing-by” readers!  And also to everyone who has ever offered encouragement and truth and wisdom.

Now my own faith comes back into play – faith that God will take The Word Changers and do whatever He wills with it, be it great or small.


“To have faith is to have wings.” – J.M. Barrie




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