Of Parables & Fairy Tales

What is the difference between a fairy tale and a parable?

Are either type of story the same things as a fable?

All 3 of these story types are considered morality tales with the goal of helping people better understand the world around them and who they want to be in it.

But how do you tell which type of story you’re writing?

Ask Yourself 3 Questions

Question 1 – Are all my characters animals or insects?

Question 2 – Are some of my characters animals and some humans?

Question 3 – Are all my characters human?

Check Your Answers

If your answer to Question 1 = Yes, you are likely writing a FABLE.

If your answer to Question 1 = Yes, you are likely writing a FAIRY TALE.

If your answer to Question 3 = Yes, you are likely writing a PARABLE.

1847 illustration of the tortoise and the scorpion
The scorpion and the tortoise, a.k.a. the scorpion and the frog. A famous fable.

Checking your answer to Question 1 is a good thing to do before submitting to the BATTLE of the BARDS competition because there is no Fable category. Only Modern Fairy Tales and Modern Parables.

So, if all your characters are animals, you will need to change at least one of them to be a human for this contest.

While fables deal with straightforward actions and consequences in nature, fairy tales and parables invite us to examine the human motives that can put us in tough spots.

Gustav Dore's etching of Little Red

In traditional tales, these decisions can lead to terrible consequences — up to, and including, death.

Originally, Little Red dies. So does the little mermaid; she goes all-in for the man of her dreams, loses her voice and turns into seafoam (then an earthbound spirit) while the Prince marries someone more suitable.

In fairy tales, little kids get thrown into ovens, boys who cry wolf are left to fend for themselves, and boys seeking treasure end up murdering to acquire the wealth.

Actions and consequences. Fairy tales and parables both explore this theme.

So what’s the difference?

The quick take you can use that will guide you right in choosing the correct category of submission in The BATTLE of the BARDS is this:

Fairy tales share principles, based on an understanding of basic human/animal nature — incorporating both animal and human characters as metaphors.

Parables share principles couched in an understanding of human cultures and practices — where setting and roles can replace the laws of nature as being the first line of consequences the characters have to deal with.

For example, if you have a morality tale about a girl in the woods who runs into three animals, you probably have a fairy tale; if you have a morality tale about an inmate in a prison who has a run-in with three other inmates, you probably have a parable.

Parables require an understanding of cultural setting to explore the world the character lives in.

Fairy tales require an understanding of basic natures to explore the character’s journey.

So, to summarize:

What’s in a parable?

One of the first signs that you are writing a parable is:

All the characters driving the story are human.

Setting, culture, religion, politics, or cultural circumstances are embedded into the dominoes of the actions and consequences.

The more you know about the culture/dynamics a story is set in, the better you understand the arc and outcome of the parable.

Take the parable of the Ten Virgins, for example.

Illustration depicting the 10 virgins from Matthew 25 of the New Testament.
Anyone know who this artist is?

Understanding the culture the story is set in can change your understanding of the 5 prepared virgins not sharing their lamp oil from:

Why didn’t they just give their friends half? What difference does that make?


Why didn’t the five girls who had the $10 bills to get into the party just tear their bills in half and give the other half to their friends so they could all get in?

Because, in parables, cultural practices and situations are context to the dilemma presented.

What’s in a Fairy Tale?

Fairy tales explore the dynamics we can all relate to, using both humans and animals as metaphors.

Anyone from anywhere — human or not — can relate to a wolf being at their door.

Everyone can relate to the temptation to play rather than work, stray off a safe path for a bit, or wanting to escape an isolated tower.

The use of universal metaphors in fairy tales makes them easy to understand across time and cultures.

Because whether they’re talking about losing a mom and gaining a step-mother who only cares about her own children or underestimating wolves, there is a level of understanding that can be universally applied by the audience.

Summary: Parables and Fairy Tales — Similarities and Differences

The thing that parables and fairy tales have in common is that they invite discussion and reflection on things we deal with every day.

The main difference is that fairy tales invite all to examine our basic, universal natures while parables invite us to explore situational ethics.

Said another way: Fairy tales explore different actions and outcomes tied to our basic natures; parables dive into the morality of our cultures, practices, and more complex behaviors.

Thus, the challenge for the fairy tale/parable author is to see the dynamics and drives of each character with clarity that leaves personal bias on the cutting room floor.

Keep these tips in mind as you submit and your entry should be solid!

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Strategic Partnerships

Sometimes, building your brand means pairing up.

When you’re in the business of doing a specific thing very well, partnering with symbiotic talent can result in a win-win situation.

Right now, a toy maker is in search of such an alliance with a seller who knows how to make money on handmade toys.


This toymaker is an elderly gentleman and a generational craftsman who makes all his toys out of reclaimed wood. One of the most captivating aspects of his builds is that all the moving parts work.

Wheels roll, levers lift, and doors open.

His toys aren’t static showpieces; they are meant to be played with.

A century ago, such toys might have been common. Today, they are a dying breed because no one makes them anymore.

Well, almost no one.


This craftsman can make the toys—including custom designs—and sell them to you at fixed, small-town prices. You can then mark them up as the market allows and sell them customers he can’t reach, due to age and other restrictions.

“What do the toys look like?” you ask.

Let’s take a look.

This is what you see when you walk into his remote shop.

Elderly craftsman standing in shop with hundreds of wooden toys he's made

You’ll notice that he has plenty to sell, but this is a good time to point out that he has enough inventory in storage to fill this shop 3X over.

Also, to get a sense of scale, take a moment to note of the semi trucks off to the right in the picture. Sizes of toys vary, but I would estimate that most of them average between 4″ to 7″ tall.

Keeping that in mind, here’s a closer look at a few of his designs.

Wooden toy: construction digger

His selection of construction toys are fun because, as mentioned before, everything that you want to play with does what it’s supposed to do. Levers lift, diggers dig, and wheels roll.

Toy wooden crane

Take this dump truck, for example:

Or this carriage that sits on elastics that make the coach sway as it moves.

Image of wooden, unfinished carriage
Note: This one is closer to 10″ tall.

And if you’re wondering if the carriage door opens…

same wooden carriage with door open.

… yes, it does. All you need is a size-appropriate horse and you are on your way!

He’s got planes.

Image of 3 different types of wood model planes (with propellers)

He’s got trains.

Image of wooden toy train on shelf

He’s got automobiles

Assortment of various painted, wooden vehicles
Assortment of unfinished Model-T cars on top shelf with smaller, painted semis on shelf below
Early 1900's car on display on shelf with painted cement mixer trucks.

He’s even got aircraft carriers.

4 jets and 1 helicopter on a carrier.

But my favorite might be his semi trucks.

Yes, he will make specific models as custom designs.

No joke, if I owned a semi company that gave out honors for drivers that hit benchmarks of excellence, I would buy him out, varnish them up, and put custom metallic placards on them.

Talk about an award everyone would actually want to get that might get passed down to future generations. It would be a killer way to build your brand.

Reminder: All wheels roll.

There’s more I could show, but you get the idea: There’s a toymaker who lives 90 minutes from anywhere who reclaims wood and fashions it into old-school toys you really don’t find very often anymore.

On top of that, if you have a design you want, he’ll make it for you. Like this toy rifle a customer wanted:

Complete with crosshairs in the site:

He’s a man with skills looking for a partner who can take him to market.

Are you that partner? If so, contact me.

Are you not his partner, but know someone who might be? If so, share this post.

A few answers to FAQs:


All toys:

  • are handmade
  • use reclaimed wood
  • 100% Made in the USA
  • have moving/functioning parts
  • are easily marked up from wholesale prices


  • Partner lives in a remote location
  • Partner has no internet communication
  • You will likely want to handpick inventory if you are a stickler when it comes to variations in quality

Want to know more and find out if there is a profitable work relationship in your future?

Follow and DM me (Sheralyn) on Instagram or Twitter, and let’s get a conversation started.