A collection of musings, articles and news about romance fiction.

Archetypal Characters of Fairy Tales

What is it that we love about a fairy tale?

Disney PrincessesIs it the universal elements in the story structure – good vs evil, hero saving heroine (or vice versa)? Is it the archetypal characters that draw us in? Is it the heroic actions of ordinary people – like Beauty sacrificing her freedom with the Beast? Is it the ideal that one person can make a stand against stronger forces, and win – like Snow White versus the Evil Stepmother Queen? Or is it the pure romanticism of personal risk to save others – like the Prince from Rapunzel?

Or is it the gowns and shoes? Cinderella, we love you!

EnamouredWhen I told my close friends and writing partners that my next release, Enamoured, was a romantic suspense with fairy tale elements, I attracted a lot of questions.

Where you on drugs when you wrote it? What did you use to blackmail/bribe the publisher? Did you seriously think it through? The answers: No, nothing and not even a little bit.

I think there is something so iconic about a fairy tale that it transcends genre boundaries. (Yes, that’s me justifying my juvenile dream of writing a fairy tale with sexual tension and murder, but it sounds better the first way). Then there is the fashion.

My daughters use the term ‘girly-girl’ – and depending on the tone used this can be a positive, neutral or negative term. I, personally, would not consider myself a girly-girl. I like wearing shorts, jeans and sneakers. I’m likely to run away from a bottle of nail polish rather than use it, and I preferred to rumble and tackle than to dress up dolls (but that’s because I never had a Barbie. Deprived, I know)  – until we start talking about fairy tales. When that happens, I turn into a pile of pink fairy-floss mush. With sparkles, thank you. I even giggle.

Maybe it’s because Prince Charming is so unbelievably, out-of-this-world handsome, or because Cinderella can really rock her frock – and (gasp) those SHOES!!! The Frog Prince’s princess doesn’t just play with a tattered tennis ball, no, her ball is GOLD, and nobody does great hair like Rapunzel.

The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and HeroinesOkay, I know this makes me sound very superficial, but it’s more than that (otherwise I’d be just plain old superficial). These characters play clearly defined roles. One book, The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines, by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever and Sue Viders, outlines them beautifully (as a writer, you need this book on your resource shelf – do yourself a favour and buy it).

Prince Charming is (I guess rather obviously) The Charmer; charismatic, appealing, fascinating, although would rather not talk about touchy-feely stuff, likes to get by on his personality and wit.

Cinderella, on the other hand, is The Waif. She’s ethereal, adaptive and doesn’t complain, but endures a situation until she’s saved.

The princess from the Frog Prince would be The Free Spirit. She’s a handful, but charmingly so. Zany, high-spirited, and more than a little impulsive, she finds herself stuck in many a tricky situation.

Rapunzel would also be The Waif, waiting for her knight to rescue her from the tower.


All of these characters are so well-known to us that each time we read them, in whatever guise, unconsciously we accept them, like familiar friends. Despite the fairy-tale endings, though, these characters do face tests. They must overcome trials, resolve deep personal flaws, and change and develop into better, stronger, faster (oh, oops, that’s the Six-Million Dollar Man – totally another blogpost!) people by the end of their story. Not unlike a romantic suspense – or…any other story, for that matter. Because archetypes are the recurring personalities that people our stories from the Dawn of Storytelling.

Tell me: who is your favourite fairy-tale heroine? Leave a comment to go into the draw to win a copy of my new romantic suspense novella with fairy tale elements, Enamoured.


13 responses

  1. christinestinson

    I’ve always had a soft spot for the Fairy Godmother. She’s a heroine in herself, turning up in the nick of time to help our Cinders get to the ball. Congratulations on the release of Enamoured, Shannon, it’s a great day!

    May 1, 2013 at 12:52 pm

  2. That is a great and unique heroine! And she might just happen to feature in Enamoured! Thanks for that, Christine, it’s a good ‘un!

    May 1, 2013 at 3:02 pm

  3. Hi Shannon

    I like Sleeping Beauty but don’t think I could sleep 100 years although sometimes I feel like it lol Congratulations on the book have just bought it and am looking forward to reading it


    May 1, 2013 at 8:22 pm

  4. Thanks so much, Barbara! I always thought Sleeping Beauty had it easy – she just had to snooze while the prince did all the hard work – but now that I’m writing, with a young family, I’m a little envious of all of SB’s zzzzz’s!

    May 1, 2013 at 8:27 pm

  5. Ooo, just one? On TV, the werewolf Monroe on GRIMM is my favorite because he’s so funny, but he’s a great friend to have on your side. In movies, my latest favorite is the princess from ENCHANTED – who doesn’t love Amy Adams? And in the Disney versions, Belle in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST wins hands down because she loves books (!), is tough, and is compassionate.

    But in real fairy tales, hmm… Some of them are pretty darn scary, as they’re meant to be! But I keep coming back to Cinderella as my favorite. No matter which version you read, you find a young woman who withstands all the horrible things life throws at her, and she succeeds in the end probably because of the strength she gained in hardship. That’s a story to give any of us hope. 🙂

    May 2, 2013 at 4:22 am

    • Well, thanks Kitty for narrowing it down to one! LOL! I remember when Beauty and the Beast was released, and the ballroom scene had everyone oohing and aahing in the cinema, especially with that gorgeous gown! But I love your take on Cinderella!

      May 2, 2013 at 9:32 am

    • Jan Vanengen

      Loved Amy Adams in Enchanted and Belle of course the book reader so hard to choose and as for Grimm just love it don’t get me started on once upon a time! 🙂

      May 2, 2013 at 5:12 pm

      • LOL! Jan, we are obviously TV buddies who haven’t met! 😀

        May 3, 2013 at 11:42 am

  6. My favourite fairy-tale heroines are Belle from Beauty and the Beast (animated) and Cinderella from The Slipper and the Rose (live action). I managed to get my favourites down to just two. I love watching fairy-tales and was sad when my nephew got too big to use as cover at the cinema.

    May 2, 2013 at 6:10 am

  7. O. M. G.! The Slipper and the Rose – high five for that one – and a hip hit! (Shh, I have it on VHS, trying to get it on DVD). I watched that and then went through a serious Richard Chamberlain fangirl haze, and my sisters and I would all pretend to be that beautiful actress, Gemma Craven – but none of us could sing like her. Of course, you couldn’t say that to our face and live! Wow. Great choice! And yes, I can relate to justifying your presence at an animated movie by towing, dragging, bribing and threatening your younger relatives!
    Thanks so much for this, I’m just going to go off and day dream about the younger Richard Chamberlain!

    May 2, 2013 at 9:36 am

  8. Jan Vanengen

    Now favourite so hard love them all have to be Cinders love her and Prince Charming! best film ever of this is Ever after with Drew Barrymore my all time favourite film. Love the whole idea of it basing a book on this with suspense reminds me of Hansel and Gretel the witch hunters new film with Jeremy Renner to die for! Congrats on new book 🙂

    May 2, 2013 at 5:20 pm

  9. Thanks so much for that! And yes, Ever After is in my movie library. Loved it, particularly when she pelted him with fruit. Hm, it seems Cinders is a bit of a trend, here!

    May 3, 2013 at 9:01 am

  10. Lea Rebane

    Thank you so much for your advice. I’m going to pitch to the max! And yes, I have written a fairytale. However my favourite heroine is Maria from The Sound of Music . But ya gotta love Maria! – She brought music back into the Captain’s life and that’s a top heroine in my opinion.

    August 6, 2013 at 1:16 pm

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