What Fanfiction Can Teach Genre Writers

Welcome to Part 10 of my WorldCon, CoNZealand panel write ups.

The panelists for the titular panel were: Susana Polo (as moderator), Brent Lambert, Ira Alexandre, Jess Weaver, and Alexandra Rowland. The panel description was as follows:

Fanfiction’s popularity continues to grow, tapping into the special creative connection between authors and fans. What is it about this literary nexus that is so fascinating and stimulating for fans? And what might authors have to learn from fans who write it?

Fanfiction, for those of you who are unfamiliar, are stories written by fans of books or television shows or movies or games or whatever, expanding or reinterpreting the stories that the author presented. The official material is known as “canon”. (One ‘n’, not talking about the large gun). Fanfic has often been seen as ‘fringe’, even within fringe genres.

Although, these days, more and more professionally published authors are admitting to having written fanfic either in the past, or present.

In fact, an Archive of Our Own (or AO3), a website that hosts fanfiction from any writer who created an account, won the Hugo in 2019 for best fan work. Fanfiction as a derivative work is definitely becoming more accepted.

What Draws People To Fanfic?

There are tons of draws for both readers and writers of fanfic to enjoy:

  • more nuanced explorations of the characters and worlds that they adore.
  • unapologetically weird stories, freed from market pressure
  • a community with a certain level of acceptance — of ‘weirdness’ and letting people do their own thing, follow their own interests, and exploration
  • a found-family sense of community
  • a way to explore “what ifs”
  • turning conventional stories into far more diverse ones, giving more people representation
  • despite some stereotypes, the quality is often on par with non-fanfic writing
  • writing stories for an already existing fanbase — original fiction has to create that fanbase from scratch
  • the pure joy of sharing something you love

Popular Fanfic Tropes

  • slash fiction –
    In the days of yore, when fanfiction was originally shared online, it would often have the names of the main characters it featured in the title with slashes between their names. Such as “Kirk/Spock” or what-have-you.

    One very popular subgenre of fanfiction arose, called “slash fiction” in which canonically straight characters were shown in non-straight relationships. This type of fanfic became very common in the days when that sort of sexual preference was hidden in the subtext, if included at all. Some of these stories were sweet crushes, some were romantic stories, and some were straight up smut.
  • characters we always see ‘saving the world’ written into calm, coffee shop sort of situations
  • slice of life stories
  • fanfic enjoys the contrast: characters from loud/action heavy stories often get quiet fanfic, while characters from quiet stories often get action heavy stories
  • cross-overs! What would happen if character from this fandom met the character from that fandom? Doctor Who and Buffy or what-have-you
  • ‘but there was only one bed’
  • friends-to-lovers
  • ‘slow burn’
  • canonically divergent – but what if X had never happened

What Can a Writer Learn From Fanfic?

The biggest thing many writers learn is how to accept constructive criticism. When you’re putting your work out there, either in its entirety, or a chapter at a time, you’re getting likes and comments and unabashed love. But, while the readers love both the source material and your stories, and honestly just want the best and most nuanced reflection of the cannon work, their comments can be biting.

Fanfic, at its heart, can also be a deep criticism of the canonical work, in prose format.

Writing Fanfic teaches:

  • besides dealing with criticism — both constructive and not
  • how characters work
  • pacing
  • what excites readers and keeps them coming back
  • it lets them experiment with voices and styles and genres
  • Plus? plenty of tough love on grammar and more

Writers and their own Fanfic Communities

Writers have historically had a fraught history with fanfic. Some writers have embraced it (see the Lovecraftian universe), some revile it, wanting complete control over their created worlds and characters, and some have done both.

Legal disputes over the original author using plots similar to those found in fanfic of their works have led many authors feeling compelled to ban others from playing in their creative worlds.

The panelists shared a story of a guy from a Marvel fanfic community who disappeared, and the community was thrilled one of their own had made it! He’d been hired to write for Marvel! But. When Marvel found out, they dropped the job offer. It can be tricky.

So. Should you read fanfiction of your own works? It might be a bad idea. Once you put your world, your stories out there? The ideas belong a little bit to every reader. The experience of their connection to your book belongs to them. And being told that your reading of a book was wrong… invalidates that experience.

In the fanfic community, there is a belief that your work lives beyond you, and can exist on a whole ecosystem of beliefs.

Two views can be valid at the same time, without invalidating one or the other. But, it can be a struggle to internalize and balance other peoples’ opinions about your works.

Of course, there are some writers who write fanfic of their own stories — things that let them explore ‘what ifs’ of taking the characters or the stories in a different direction. As one of the panelists shared, it can give you the space to be black or queer or both. It can be healing to do your own fanfic, counter-balancing all the work you have to do to be palatable to the market, and remembering what it is to write someDthing not beholden to anyone (except the ‘like’ button).


Fanfic is filling the role of folk-art in our modern culture. We have a need to communal stories and this lets us explore this. Copyright allows people to make money and to own their own story and canon.


Have you written fanfic? Have people written fanfic about your original works? Tell me about your experience!

Author Spotlight: Laura Detering

  • former dancer, worship leader, high school teacher, and cardiac sonographer turned happily-ever-after author.

Readers! Let’s give a good, hearty welcome to Laura Detering!

Laura Detering is a happily married mom of 2 girls. She spends her days very differently than she ever did before and it’s not because of COVID.

A few years ago she was struck with invisible neurological conditions (Chronic Vestibular Migraines and MDDS) that have left her disabled. Finding herself mostly couch and bed ridden in chronic pain, instead of letting depression keep her down, she was encouraged to continue to try and heal as well as begin a lifelong dream, writing.

Laura, thanks for agreeing to be here today. What a struggle! I’m so glad you’ve found your way to writing. While most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

Oh my word, I haven’t really ever thought about it because most pets trigger my asthma! In real life, I would love a little “hypoallergenic” lap dog (maybe like a Morkie?) to keep me company while I write as well as be a friend for my daughters.

In the fantasy world, I would love an Ikran (flying dragon of Pandora). I mean besides the obvious (who wouldn’t want to fly?) they are warriors and their coloring is beautiful!

Lovely choices! All right thinking people usually have an eye on a dragon. And puppies are classics for a reason!

What do you write?

Common themes you will see in my writing are hope, happily ever afters, and mostly clean romance. I hope to never be boxed into a specific genre or age group.

I took time off of my job to raise my kiddos with plans to return to the workforce once my youngest was old enough to start school.

Around 18 months before that was set to happen, I felt God nudging me to write my book based on a recurring dream I had as a child, something I had always felt called to do. I figured with only 18 months left, I better hop to it.

I spent 2-3 months researching names, making timelines and webs, bare-bones outlines, etc. From late January of 2017 to the beginning of April 2017, I had my very first draft complete. I wrote late in the evening once everyone was asleep with the show Friends in the background. I got through one set of edits, and then I set it aside for a few months.

By the time I picked it back up, my conditions hit. Editing was painful and painfully slow afterward. I started planning The Witch in the Envelope in 2016 and I am just now publishing it.

Writing is tough when everything is going well. It takes a determined person to push through and focus with all you have going on. I love that you choose to write happily-ever-after stories, keeping your focus on the positive.

What do you like to read?

Give me all the fluff, romance, relationship tropes, and happily ever afters! My neurological conditions tax my central and parasympathetic nervous systems so I do not do well with anything that causes me stress. I do have a problem though… if a book has sucked me in, I HAVE to finish it as fast as I
possibly can. It’s an addiction, really.

I’m right there with you on ‘having’ to finish a book. Let hear it for those stories that you just ‘know’ are going to turn out okay.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

Write Every Single Day.

It’s not physically possible for me. I have to give myself grace for days when my body says, “absolutely not today.”

I used to beat myself up about it, which caused stress, which caused my body to go into a flare, and well… you get the idea. Even if I wasn’t sick, life ebbs and flows a lot and having younger kids is a feat in itself. I am not saying to make a bunch of excuses all the time and not make your writing a priority; just don’t beat yourself up about it.

One hundred percent. Life has to be your priority. Making space for your writing doesn’t mean ignoring the things around you — be it family, day-jobs, or your own health – all of these things often need to come first.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.

Write the story you want to read

If I had spent time on social media researching all of the writing advice out there, I may never have started writing in the first place.

As a newbie author, it is easy to get swept away in the opinions and advice of others, no matter how well-intentioned. That can include lies that your story isn’t needed right now, or the market is too saturated, or it doesn’t fit current market trends, etc. Write what you want to read because you will read it…. dozens and dozens of times.

One-hundred percent! Chasing the market typically ends up with people six months late into an over-saturated market, with writing that lacks heart. When you care about your story, it shows.

Did You Always Want To Be A Writer?

Heck Yes! Well, no… maybe?

I had an awesome 1st and 2nd-grade teacher. She had us re-write fairytales with a twist and I loved that. I wanted to turn my recurring dream into a children’s book.

Slowly, I began to hate writing. Ugh- a ten page paper was like pulling teeth. In high school, I worked 2-3 jobs at a time and was involved in many sports, clubs, and activities. I did volleyball, dance, musicals, madrigals, and SAVE. I also took AP and honors courses. I never had time to read and all my writing was for school. I hated everything that we were assigned to read and most topics/prompts we had to write on.

It wasn’t until my second year of teaching high school that I fell in love with reading again. Thanks, Twilight! Becoming an avid reader again, my desire to write sprang back to life.

So, Twilight, huh?

I know, I know. It is a super unpopular opinion. However, I will ALWAYS be grateful to that series! So, I was teaching history for half the day and ethnic dance the second half.

I started seeing kids reading. You would think this would be common in a school setting, but it really wasn’t. Everywhere I went, I would see a handful of kids reading wherever they could find a spot to get to a few more pages and they all were reading the same book. If I had a few minutes of free time at the end of class, kids were whipping out this book instead of their cell phones.

I asked some of the students in my dance class what the book was about. When they told me the premise, I scoffed. A human falling in love with a vampire in a love triangle with a wolf? What the heck? I’m not reading that. But, this one student challenged me to read it over the weekend and told me to come back and answer him one thing, Team Edward or Team Jacob. Well, he was right! I LOVED it. (I’m team Edward by the way). This book series allowed me to connect with my students in a way I’d never had before and we had so much fun!

It also allowed me to connect with my older sister as well. I will never forget being super pregnant, wearing a team Edward tee, going to see New Moon in Orlando on opening weekend with her. The audience made it that much better!

You will never hear me diss Twilight fans. While not for me, the genre is right up my alley. And? I find that you’ll see a lot of literary criticism on what teenage girls and “moms” like to read, listen to, anything that becomes popular with women is often mocked or derided for someone’s idea of its merit. They find condemning stuff that they aren’t the target market for easy.

Plus? The popularity of things with these groups just shows me that these are likely underserved markets, starving for more. Let me stop here before I really start to rant…


Shameless Self-Promotion time!

The Witch in the Envelope is my debut novel and the first in the trilogy. I am very proud of myself for not quitting on this project even though my brain hated every second of my 5 minute stints at the computer and made me pay for it with dizziness and disabling migraines.

I hope Liddy’s story allows my readers to escape this harsh 2020 if even for a short time. I am now finding treatment that has helped me some as well as new technology that I am getting more comfortable with. I promise it will not be another 4 years for book 2 to hit shelves (I plan to release it in the spring or fall of 2021).

Book 1 in the TWITE series…

As a child, nightmares of a hauntingly beautiful yet vicious witch plagued Liddy Erickson. But when she wakes one morning with a deep gash on her chest in the same place the witch attacked her, she realizes these were no ordinary dreams. Shortly after she confides in her best friend, Will, his entire family disappears along with her memories of them.

It’s now 1998, and seventeen-year-old Liddy has one goal: to move out of the cold Chicago suburbs after graduation. Two things that are not in her perfectly planned life: fun and dating. That is until the new transfer student catches the eye of every girl at Wheeling High School. With intriguing scars and eyes that seem to glow, he awakens something inexplicable in Liddy and proves to know her even better than her closest friends. This forbidden attraction could be her greatest downfall…or her saving grace.

When a stranger with a distinct melodic chime to his walk saves Liddy from opening an enchanted envelope, he reveals an outrageous claim that she is a lost Watcher and the saving grace for their homeland, Cristes. As Christmas draws near, Liddy must decide if she can trust the stranger’s orders or risk condemning an entire nation.



Check Laura Detering out across the web!

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Amazon |

Writing SFF From The Margins

Welcome to Part 9 of my WorldCon, CoNZealand panel write ups.

The panelists for the titular panel were: E.J. Beaton (as moderator), Maiya Ibrahim, Michi Trota, Dr. Eugen Bacon, and Kieron Gillen. The panel description was as follows:

How do marginalised aspects of identity — gender, sexuality, culture, race, health, ability and more  — shape our creative work? How can we empower, express, and explore through writing fantasy and SF?

Politics and Speculative Fiction

Speculative fiction as a whole makes it easier to explore the concepts of race, of sexuality, of disability, and — what does it mean to belong? Additionally, by placing it in a speculative setting, you can show the issues zoomed into the individual level, without making it personal — because you’re not talking about yourself directly.

Speculative fiction is all about the world building. Despite its reputation as ‘escapism’, it gives us the space to show potential worlds where people of all races, abilities, gender, and sexual orientations are accepted. It can give voice to ‘the other’, showing stories of diversity and hope. From the very beginning of the genre, it’s been used to tackle very complicated issues and concerns.

Still, there is pushback. People say that stories, that media should be entertainment, not political. So, let’s look closer.

Let’s explore who is featured in these stories and what sort of things happen to the characters? When you look deeper, you can often see a pattern of what society deems acceptable and mainstream. Yet, none of us are the ‘average person’, we all have unique challenges and skills, so reducing our stories to that is erasing the reality of what it means to be human.

When you write and create new worlds with different economies and religions — you’re exploring that. What you chose to write — and what you chose not to write says something.

If you take a look at older books, from the 1980s or the 1950s or the 1920s or the 1800s, the assumptive context presents a world view that says something about the time, the intended audience, and the culture that created that work.

In other words? Telling a story about something seen as ‘different’ is always seen as political, but upholding the status quo is, in and of itself, a political decision.

When we say that someone is ‘writing from the margins’, what does that mean?

Typically, they’re writing about an experience that is not the ‘default’ in the literary or publishing world. They’re writing about race, or gender, or country of origin, or disabilities, or … the list goes on.

But. Why are they still in the margins? Why is it still considered that?

We all know that it’s dangerous to be visible outside the margins — it makes you a target. There are accusations of pandering and forced diversity and undeserved recognition due to quotas. Any success is rationalized away from the creator, turning them into an identity statistic and a publicity stunt.

When writers stories spotlight the issue that makes them marginalized, people often focus on the issue and not their writing. They often end up pigeonholed, talking about why these issues deserve a space on the bookshelf, and what’s it like to be an X writer in the SF community.

What we need is more space for them to talk about what their situation adds to their writing, to celebrate the diversity of human experience.

Struggling with Inclusivity

Many writers who have been marginalized can find themselves even white-washing their own self-inserts, because of the influence of the dominate culture. It can be hard to go against these cultural influences.

If you are sharing your own experience, you get the chance to normalize your way of life! Your experiences! Because it can be normal for the point-of-view character — thanks to the magic of fiction.

Some people struggle when writing stories that are close to their own trauma. One suggestion is to switch from first-person to third-person point-of-view, this can pull it back a little and make the story read and write a little less immediate.

On the flip side? If you want your readers to really understand the trauma of the situation you’re writing, (assuming you can pull it off), you might want to try second-person.

For those out there who aren’t from a marginalized background, it can be hard to know what to do. If you leave out diverse characters, you’re chastised; if you get it wrong, there’s might be a mob calling to cancel your book, or worse.

The best answer I’ve heard is to include the characters. Write the characters either as tertiary, secondary, or even primary characters — but don’t have the story plot be centered around the aspect that marginalizes them. Plus, get a person (or three — they are not a monolith and have different views) from that lived experience to proof the story for you (and be willing to pay for their labor), to make sure that you’re getting them right — that you’re not falling either into stereotypes or whitewashing.

The Complexity of #OwnVoices Stories

The hashtag #ownVoices is used a lot in literary circles these days to represent stories in which the author has lived experiences with some of the struggles presented in the story, based on identity.

Using this identifier can help get past the standard “did not connect” rejection, hopefully making the agent or publisher take a step back and evaluate the reason why they didn’t connect. Is it because it’s so foreign to their own lived experience, and not a problem with the writing or story? When the agent or publisher goes in expecting a different culture and viewpoint, they may be open to a better array of stories.

But, it can be fraught to ask what aspect of the story is #ownVoices, because those are identities that can leave a writer open to attack.

Worse? There are people advertising works as #ownVoices, because they see it as a trend and a way to get ahead — without the story actually being #ownVoices.

A real question we don’t have the answer to: where is the line between gatekeeping and helping people promote their own voices.

Additionally, there’s the feeling from some publishers that if they have “one Asian” story, they don’t need another that year — despite the wide array of cultures and stories that fit under that umbrella. Or? The publisher ends up chasing trends, and showing up late to an oversaturated market.

Any work can find an audience if the publisher is willing to put in the work and the money — and that’s outside of the writer’s control. Which ends up in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy (as any writer, #ownvoices or not can attest), the publisher invests no money because they don’t think there’s a huge market, because no one knows about it, and it sells poorly. And with inclusive stories, that makes it less likely the publisher will take a risk on the next inclusive story, not just that one writer.

Self-publishing is helping break down the walls, but most self-published books are fighting for an ever-shrinking margin, and it can be hard to stand out with poorly edited novellas flooding the market and losing the audience’s willingness to take a risk on an unknown author.


Writing inclusive stories is hard. Writing from the margins is often harder.

How can you make a difference? Besides including the true diversity of the human condition in your own stories? The same way you can support any writer.

Read stories by writers in the margins, review them, and tell your friends.

Constructed Languages

From Elvish to Esperanto to Dothraki to Belter

Welcome to Part 8 of my WorldCon, CoNZealand panel write ups.

The panelists for the titular panel were: David Peterson (as moderator), Lawrence M. Schoen, Ryn Yee, and Jean Bürlesk. The panel description was as follows:

This is not a 1950s movie. The aliens don’t speak English. Fictional societies, whether on distant planets, in the far future, or in secondary fantasy worlds, will have their own languages unlike our own. These constructed languages (conlangs) can be fun–and devilishly difficult–to construct. Language experts and writers (aren’t writers language experts?) will talk about making a conlang, and how they figure into stories, from first contact to diplomacy to bargaining for your life.

How Far Should You Go?

When reading a book — like Lord of the Rings or Embassytown or watching a tv series — like Star Trek or Babylon Five, or even a movie like Arrival, even the casual fan can pick up a word or two in a constructed language (or conlang). But, from the outside-looking-in, it can be hard to determine: did the writers invent a word? Or a full language?

More importantly — if I’m writing a story, how much of this language do I need to invent? Do I need to act like Tolkien?

Well? All languages are comprised of a multitude of layers.

Layers of a Language

  1. Vocabulary — The most readily apparent. The conlang consists of words with meanings. But, let’s think about the ways the vocabulary we use reflects on us.
    • Word choice can demonstrate a particular culture (references to particular gods or rituals, expected life events, etc)
    • Word choice can also demonstrate class (“How y’all doing? versus “How do you do, today?”)
    • Words also have connotations, that may not be familiar to non-native speakers. (“My big sister” versus “my large sister”).
  2. Grammar — Most humans are designed to recognize patterns, if only to make sure they can tell when something seems ‘off’. What is grammar if not patterns of word use?
    • What order do you put your parts of speech — your nouns, verbs, adjectives, and more?
    • Do the verbs/nouns/etc change form based on other factors in the sentence? (i.e. verb conjugation based on tense or subject)
    • Punctuation (I love the Oxford comma!)

Do I Need The Whole Language Before I Can Write?

Short answer? No.

Long answer? It’s up to you. And you can always write your story and then layer the language part in.

Options for Conlangs

Treat language as world building!

  1. Opt out! Use universal translators.
    • But! Think about idioms and how poorly they translate between earth cultures. “Raining cats and dogs”.
    • Think about things that can translate content, but not intent.
  2. A few words here and there, just thrown in.
    • You can spell it either in the way that makes it more pronounceable by the majority of your audience, or stylized to give a sense of culture, (but harder to pronounce).
  3. A few sentences — an idea of the spelling of things, a form of grammar, what letters and vowels are more common in the language.
    • Try to be consistent for certain sounds. For example, pick either “ck” or “k”, and “s” or “c”. Unless there’s a cultural explanation.
  4. Give the created culture verbal ticks (“like”, “um”, etc). Plus, their own accents – both with their own language and yours.
  5. Remember those idioms? Think about what sort of hyperbolic phrases the created people’s culture might use.
  6. Have a creole language! Now, is a creole language — using part alien/ part your language easier? No. All languages have their own grammar and patterns and cultural baggage! Even dialects of your own are internally consistent.
  7. Some languages have a better vocabulary for certain concepts. Show the characters switching languages based on conversation subject matter.
    • This also means you can imply words that are too complex to be said in one (for example) English word.
  8. Next step? Think about the history of the culture. Invaders and conquests, what sort of languages got filtered in.
    • English has “beef” that comes from “cows”. How did these words get to be so different? Because “cow” is from the Germanic, while the conquering Norman (i.e. French) lords used the term “boeuf“, giving ranchers one word, and the people eating the meat another.
  9. More! What font, alphabet, pictograms, logographic, syllabaries, etc would your society use? Could it be translated into the language you’re writing in? Or not?
  10. Okay. You’ll need a glossary by now, and might be time to start thinking about a dictionary. Maybe a grammar book.

In conlang circles, the Darmock (season 5, episode 2 Star Trek: The Next Generation) is infamous. In the episode, while the translators work as usual, the culture uses references to famous (on their world) stories for many concepts.  For example, the expressions “Darmok on the ocean, Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra, Darmok and Jalad on the ocean”, convey a sense of two opposing persons, who arrive separately at an isolated place and, forced to cooperate when faced with a fierce beast, leave together as friends.(1)

Things To Be Wary Of

  1. Science fiction and fantasy has overused the apostrophe in created names and more. Be sure you need it before using one.
  2. Is borrowing from a dying language a good idea?

    I mean, science is known for using Latin for its naming conventions.

    No. Remember those connotations and contexts we mentioned? If you’re not a native speaker, it’s easy to get those wrong. And using one language to represent an imaginary language is kinda the definition of cultural appropriation.
  3. What about using words from a real language?

    Is it because you have characters from that culture? Sure! Just make sure a native speaker reads it and makes sure it both says what you meant for it to say, and that the connotation is what you intended. (‘Big sister’ versus ‘Large sister’). Just make sure the words are there for a reason, not just window dressing.

Are you ready to start creating a language?

Have you created one in the past?

Let me know how it goes/went!

Fairy Tale Contract Law

Welcome to Part 7 of my WorldCon, CoNZealand panel write ups.

The panelists for the titular panel were: Kathleen Jennings as moderator, Sascha Stronach and AJ Lancaster. The panel description was as follows:

Our panellists consider various bargains made in fairy tales and fairy tale fantasy, and what that means for the laws of the land of fables: How could Rumpelstiltskin’s contract been enforced? What court could hold Jack (of Beanstalk fame) guilty of trespassing? When does a promise become a curse, or a quest a contract?

I love fairy tales, fairy tale retellings, and creating my own, so when I saw this panel was going to happen, I knew I didn’t want to miss it.

Who Makes The Rules?

When reading fairy tales, it can be rather nebulous to determine if a law is intrinsic or something instituted by a peoples.

The power dynamic is sometimes part of the story. Who knows the rules and can enforce them (Baba Yaga or Rumplestiltskin)?

In folk horror, the rules are unclear, and the rules will come and bite you. In fantasy, the rules typically come from the author or the rulers, something a little more knowable.

Although?

The punishment doesn’t always seem to fit the crime.

Like a force of nature itself. Fairy tale contracts are a way of reassuring people — if they follow the rules, they’ll be safe.

But, the saving grace of fairy tale law is there is usually a loophole. The petty details are what keeps the capricious being from completely destroying you.

Consent Matters

While in the modern era, a contract cannot be legally binding if the signer doesn’t understand it, that rule is clearly not true in fairy tale law. Perhaps, fairy law represents a shift in culture… whether one’s word is something that can be trusted?

However, the fairies can’t demand something for nothing. In order for it to be a contract, no matter how capricious it seems, the fairy has to have given you something. This is why folks are warned not to eat or drink anything in the fae realms.

No matter how ignorant of the rules the victim of fairy tale contract law might be, the mortal has usually done something to — consciously or not — agree to the contract.

Even if they don’t believe in it themselves: think of Sarah in the movie, Labyrinth, bargaining her little brother away.

One way to get trapped is either making false claims, or having someone make them on your behalf, such as the woman in Rumpelstiltskin. Her father’s claim that she could spin straw into gold started the whole mess and dragged the titular character into the story.

But? Cheating can get you out. While the fairy folk might rant and stomp until they stomp their way out of the mortal realm, they can’t deny your win. Likely because they cheated you into this contract in the first place. But, by doing the impossible, the character is shown to deserve their prize.

Common Tropes

Firstborns are often promised in fairy tales — perhaps as a way of winning back land that the humans stole from the fairy folk? With these tales being written in a time when the first born often was the sole (or primary) inheritor.

The youngest — of three, or seven, or nine usually — is typically the one to save the day. Because, in a time where the firstborn inherits, by the time you get to the last-born, they’re expected to get by on nothing but their wits.


While fairy tale contract law can be cruel and capricious, one can usually escape if you follow the rules, and think outside the box.

What are your favorite fairy tales? What loopholes have stuck with you?