Author Features On Writing

Mirror Mirror On the Wall: Tips to Writing a Modern Fairytale

How do you write a modern fairytale? What makes it different from the cherished stories we adored as children? Read below from Sisters of Shadow and Light author Sara B. Larson to learn what inspired her to write her very own fairytale!


By Sara B. Larson

Once upon a time…

Ah, those four little words that immediately transport you back to childhood and magic and princesses and evil queens and prince charming and daring deeds. Once upon a time…there was a young girl who adored reading and especially loved fairytales. Spoiler alert: I was that young girl, and my love of reading and fairytales still endures to this day. There is something so magical about settling into a story that feels at once familiar and new, with surprises yet to be revealed. I feel like that is the beauty of stories inspired by fairytales. When the first embers of Sisters of Shadow and Light began to spark in my mind, I didn’t knowingly set out to draw from fairytales I’d read or loved, but I had just finished writing a series inspired by Swan Lake so I was certainly in the right mindset to be influenced by the fairytales I’d grown up loving or come to love as an adult.

That’s the thing with writing. I believe we are always drawing upon our experiences and interests when we are creating, whether consciously or not. I have a deeply ingrained love of fairy tales (one of my most loved and reread books growing up was Robin McKinley’s Beauty, for example), so that is going to creep into my fantasy books, whether I purposely set out to or not. With SOSAL, I saw an image of a girl with glowing eyes and had this idea—what if there was a race of people who were magical, and the way you recognized them was because their magic made their eyes literally glow blue? I’d also been wanting to write a book about sisters for a while. There are some fairytales with siblings, but rarely do you see them in a positive light. Evil stepsisters abound! I am the oldest of five girls, and I’m very close to my sisters, so I wanted to write a story that showed the bond and love that can exist between sisters. I also have two daughters, and I can only hope they will be as close as I am with my sisters. With this story, I wanted to show how a sister’s love could save you—not just some random boy. I didn’t even realize the similarity between that plotline and Frozen until my editor pointed it out! But having seen that movie at least 400 times, thanks to my daughters, it was definitely somewhere in my mind, influencing me, at least to some degree.

In Sisters of Shadow and Light, Zuhra is fiercely dedicated to her younger sister, Inara, who is unable to communicate most of the time, held hostage in her own mind by the power she can’t control. This is reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty in a way, except I didn’t want her to be asleep. She is trapped in her mind but awake. And she didn’t need some random prince that she’d never met before to come kiss her without her permission to free her. (I love fairytales and all, but hello “Me, Too” moment!)

The sisters’ relationship is intensified even more by the closed environment forced upon them as they are trapped in an abandoned citadel because of a massive, magical hedge that won’t let them leave. Again, I didn’t intentionally set out to incorporate elements of Sleepy Beauty by including a magical hedge, it just sprang into existence (see what I did there?) while I was free writing the first chapter, exploring my idea to see where it went. And I was so fascinated by the hedge, it stayed and became an integral part of the story.

And so, through a combination of seeing striking images that sparked some ideas, my love for my sisters and my daughters, growing up reading and watching fairytales, and my own imagination, a story about two sisters, trapped behind a magical hedge—one with powers, and one without—came to be. A story of how love really can change your life, for better or worse. The love of a sister. The misguided love of a broken mother. The devastation of your love leaving you. The hope of new love. The pain of unreciprocated love, from a boy, from a mother, from the father who abandoned you all and made your life what it is.

I hope you will give my sisters a chance, and that when you read their story, you will come to love them as much as I do. And maybe, just maybe, Sisters of Shadow and Light will become a modern fairytale for you to treasure and draw from when you create your own stories.

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