On Writing Fairy-Tales and Mythology—Things to Consider

So this post comes on the heels of me finishing a self-revision and sending it off to a critique partner…which also means that I get to not think about it for a little bit. I’m super excited for this novel, though, and I can’t wait to dive into revisions again. In the meantime, I’ve been plotting/brainstorming that WIP I mentioned last post, and—fingers crossed—I’ll catch up on blogging.

But today I wanted to talk about writing fairy-tales and mythology. Last year, I blogged about why I love reading & writing them (link here!), but I thought it would be cool to dig a bit deeper into that and talk about things to consider when choosing to pen one. Not only fairy-tales, but mythology and folklore, too.

This post was largely borne from that WIP I mentioned last post, where I said, “It also includes parts of my own culture that I love.” While high fantasy, the world is hugely inspired by the ancient Greco-Roman world. I studied Pompeii and Herculaneum, parts of Ancient Greece, and a little of the Persian Empire in high school, which has definitely influenced how I go about dealing with culture and mythology. For example, along with many other ancient cultures, the Ancient Greeks held an advanced understanding of the universe/cosmos, so that plays a role in this work-in-progress. (Fun fact: κόσμος—or kosmos—can translate from Greek as “order, harmonious arrangement” or sometimes even “decoration, adornment.”)

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I came across this last year & thought it looked like a portal to some immortal faerie world. ❤

Almost all—okay, fine, all—of my current WIPs have been inspired by fairy-tales/mythology in some way. The last WIP I just revised was sort of inspired by Norse mythology and it got me thinking… What are the things to consider when writing a retelling, or something inspired by mythology? What you choose/don’t choose to include is, as the writer, completely up to you, but I put together some guidelines, or other things you might want to consider.

1. Honor the original material. I feel like this one is something not everyone will agree with…but it’s super important to me! Especially when it comes to mythology, and if you’re dealing with cultures you might not be familiar with. I think it’s so important to honor that by staying true to the material. Not everything has to be the same—after all, everyone’s interpretations of myths, folklore, and fairy-tales will be vastly different—but it’s important to consider. I write a lot of books that are usually inspired by my own culture, so I feel like there’s extra pressure to get it right. Sometimes, though, you’ve just got to write the story you feel you have to, even if that means swaying quite far away from the original. Which brings me to my next point…

2. Research, research, research! Read fiction about it. Read non-fiction. Watch TV shows, movies, read blogs, search the web. Find out every little detail about the myth/fairy-tale. Look beyond the Disney retellings to the original material behind it if you haven’t already, because there are so many untapped tales there to tell (…especially if you’re writing a dark fantasy retelling.)

3. Make it original—but make it recognizable. This one is so, so important. Accept that a retelling of what you’ve done has been done before. So you need to be original and twist the fairy-tale/myth in some way it hasn’t been, but still, it needs to be recognizable to the reader as a fairy-tale/myth retelling. There’s a fine line between the two, I think, and no reader is going to agree on where that line is. But when you’re sitting down to retell (or even just write a book that’s loosely inspired by) a myth or fairy-tale, it’s important to consider! I’ve never written a strict retelling, but more often than not, a reader would be able to recognize which myths and fairy-tales I’ve drawn from. An awesome example of this is A.G. Howard’s Splintered It’s wildly unique and interesting…but also instantly identifiable as something inspired by Alice In Wonderland. Another I love is Brodi Ashton’s Everneath series. Strange and new and wickedly good, but it’s so easy to understand it has strong threads of Hades & Persephone.

4. Consider how this all weaves into your original tale. Think about the world you’ve created—is it a contemporary setting? High fantasy?—and use that to your advantage. Carve out your own unique world-building by using the fairy-tale and myth as a basis, and let that shine in your world, too.

Writers: What are your tips/considerations when retelling a myth or fairy-tale? Readers: What are some of your favorite fairy-tale and/or myth retellings? And readers, which do you prefer—books that are “retellings” or just loosely inspired by a myth or fairy-tale?


Currently reading: POCKET MUSEUM: ANCIENT GREECE by David Michael Smith.

Currently listening to: “The Awakening” by Silver Screen Music.

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11 thoughts on “On Writing Fairy-Tales and Mythology—Things to Consider

  1. Azelyn Klein says:

    I tend to be super picky when it comes to fairy tales retellings/inspired stories. I don’t care for stories that mirror the original story so much that they’re predictable. But I like stories that put an interesting twist on the original, so I’d say I like loosely inspired stories more. The latest book I read that was loosely inspired would be The Beast of Talesend by Kyle Robert Shultz. It’s pretty short but very witty.

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    • karaterzis says:

      Me too, definitely! Full-on retellings can get very tiring very quickly. But like you said—a new twist on the original? Yes, please!! I haven’t heard of The Beast of Talesend, but I’ll look it up.

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  2. Cait @ Paper Fury says:

    Yesss totally agree with all of these! I really like it when I can recognise the tale, but not so much that I get bored because I know all the plot twists coming. Because where’s the fun in that.😂I also don’t like it when they like insult or diss the original?! Like it happens SO much and it’s just disrespectful. Honour the original but make it yours!! I also love the sound of how complex and detailed you do your mythology retellings eeep.😍

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    • karaterzis says:

      Hahaha, exactly! I love fresh new perspectives & point of views. Oh my gosh, yes, I know what you mean! I can usually look past that but…yeah. Not cool. Bringing down someone/something else will never make you look better, ugh. Haha, thank you!! Hopefully one day I’ll get to share them with the world. ❤

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  3. divabooknerd says:

    I love this Kara. I can only speak from a readers point of view but it irritates me beyond words when authors use mythology but spin the narrative so it’s no longer recognisable. Then it just seems like a ploy to lure in readers. The point you make of being able to put your own spin on the storyline but keeping the basics, all authors really need to adhere to. Brilliant advice for writers Kara ❤ ❤

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    • karaterzis says:

      Ahh, thank you!! I wasn’t sure how many people would agree with me on this, haha. I think, at the end of the day, a writer can do whatever they please with ancient myths/legends/fairy-tales, but I feel like if it’s a) unique but b) has obvious links to the original myth, then it’ll resonate with readers a lot more.

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