How to Write a Fable: Definition, Tips, and How to Publish

We're all familiar with a fable or two. These timeless stories are often taught to us as children, and their morals or lessons help us to make sense of the world. And while these short stories are simple, writing them can help us with our storytelling skills and characterizations. 

Whether you're a seasoned writer or a newcomer to fiction writing, learning how to write a fable is a great exercise in storytelling. 

In this article, you will learn:
  1. What a fable is (and how it differs from similar stories). 
  2. Examples of common fables.
  3. Tips for writing your fable (and publishing it, if you're so inclined).

What is a Fable?

A fable is a short story that features anthropomorphized characters (usually animals). Each fable has a clear and broad moral lesson that's easy to remember and can be stated in one or two sentences. 

Fables are written for children, but there are plenty of adaptations that go beyond these simple stories to provide entertainment for adults and young adults. 

Format Beautiful Professional Books

Easy to use, and and full of amazing features, you can quickly turn your book into a professional book.

Check It Out

Fable, Fairy Tale, Legend, or Myth?

It can be easy to confuse a fable with other fictional stories. And by learning the difference between fables, fairy tales, legends, and myths, you can solidify what a fable is before you attempt to write one. 

  • Fable A short story for children featuring animal characters that imparts a clear moral lesson to the reader. 
  • Fairy Tale – A story designed for entertainment that features magical elements and always has a happy ending. 
  • Legend – A traditional story with human characters based in some way on actual events but not authenticated.
  • Myth – A belief-based story featuring mythical creatures or Gods, often detailing the creation of Earth, the heavens, etc. 

While fables are written for kids and have animals with human traits, they don't always have happy endings. Sometimes, the perceived “antagonist” wins over the protagonist. However, the purpose of these kinds of endings is to impart an important lesson to the reader as a cautionary tale. 

Famous Fables and Their Moral Lessons

Before we get to the writing tips, let's look at some of the most famous English fables and break down their moral lessons in one or two sentences. 

The Tortoise and the Hare (Aesop's Fables)

My favorite fable and the one that immediately comes to mind is The Tortoise and the Hare. The footrace is a simple concept, and the animals have clearly defined human traits. The hare is fast but cocky while the tortoise is slow but focused. Of course, the tortoise wins in the end. 

The moral: Focus and dedication lead to success (slow and steady wins the race).

The Boy Who Cried Wolf (Aesop's Fables)

Again, with this fable, we have a simple concept: a boy in charge of protecting a herd of sheep. After the boy is caught playing a prank by lying about a wolf attack, he doesn't receive any help when there's actually trouble. What sets this fable apart from many others is the human characters. But it just goes to show that you can have human characters in your fables. 

This is also a good example of a fable that doesn't have a happy ending. In the original fable, the wolf eats the village's sheep. In a different fable retelling, the wolf also eats the shepherd boy. 

The moral: Always tell the truth. 

The Lion and the Mouse (Aesop's Fables)

This fable starts with a mouse accidentally waking a lion. Instead of eating the mouse, the lion lets it go. A short time later, the lion gets caught in a snare. Hearing the lion's cries, the mouse comes back and gnaws through the rope to free the lion. 

The moral: Kindness or mercy will always be repaid. Additionally, there is a moral lesson about mutual dependence despite size, strength, or social stature.  

Tips for Writing a Fable

Fable writing can be a fun creative exercise. And since these fictional stories are timeless, you can turn them into a children's book with illustrations for publishing. Or, you can create a collection of fables. More on publishing your fables below. For now, let's get to the writing tips!

Determine Your Moral Lesson

Since every great fable is based on a moral lesson, many writers prefer to start with the life lesson they want to impart and work from there. This can help you determine what human characteristics to give your characters. 

So consider what life lesson you want to explore in your fable. Write it down in a sentence or two. 

If you want to do an adaptation of another moral lesson already in fable form, that's okay. You can create unique characters and circumstances to craft a unique fable that explores important moral lessons that may have already been explored in different fables. 

After all, there are only so many ideas for stories. It's how you execute the idea that makes it uniquely yours. To get you started, here are some common moral lessons explored in fables:

  • Learn from others' mistakes. 
  • Greed will only cause pain. 
  • Lead by example.
  • Be grateful for what you have. 
  • Don't judge a book by its cover. 

Decide on Your Characters

As we've already explored, the main characters in most fables are animals. However, this doesn't always have to be the case. You can have humans, animals, or inanimate objects with human traits.

There are usually only two main characters in each fable. It's between these two that the story's conflict arises. And this conflict should be rooted in their opposing personality traits. 

If you already have an idea of the moral lesson you're going to explore, then you can use it to determine the character traits. If you want to start with your characters and then discover the moral lesson, that's fine, as well! There's no right or wrong way to write a fable. 

Choose a Setting

Most fables are set in nature. But you can place your fable wherever you like. It could take place in a kitchen, on a playground, inside the walls of a house—wherever you want. It should just make sense for the characters you've created. 

You don't need to go into a bunch of detail about your setting. It's simply a backdrop for the conflict and ensuing lesson. Remember, a good fable is short and sweet.

Write Your Fable

Once you have your moral lesson, characters, and setting nailed down, it's time to dive into the writing part of the creative writing process. 

Most fables are written in third person omniscient, which means the narrator isn't tied to one single character and has a godlike view of the world. In true oral storytelling tradition, they're also mostly written in the past tense.

They feature dialogue between characters, and sometimes there's even dialogue when a character is alone talking to him or herself. 

Pro Tip: If you're not sure how to format your dialogue, check out our article on the subject here.  

Publish Your Fables

While a single fable is too short to publish by itself, you can certainly bundle multiple fables together and publish them as a collection of short stories. 

If this is the path you'd like to take, our tool Atticus can help you present your collection with professional formatting. Atticus is an all-in-one writing and formatting tool. It features word-count goal setting, ProWritingAid integration for editing, customizable features, and pre-made formatting options for both eBook and print book publishing

You can turn your short story collection into a professionally formatted book with just a few clicks. Check out Atticus here to learn more.    

You may also want to turn your fable into an illustrated children's book. If this is something you're interested in, check out our article on writing a children's book

Increase Your Book Marketing

See the Publisher Rocket effect, when you use the right keywords and categories to help get your book seen more on Amazon.

Get Publisher Rocket Now!

How to Write a Fable: Lessons Learned

Understanding the basics of fable writing is a great way to grasp storytelling fundamentals. While these stories are pretty simple, crafting one can be a great writing activity that helps get the creative juices flowing. And if you have a small child, you can share your fables with them to start their love of reading early!

If you do plan on publishing your fable—either as a short story collection or a children's book—Publisher Rocket can help you determine which Amazon categories are best. This tool can also help you find actual customer search terms from readers who are looking for books like yours. Check out Publisher Rocket here to learn more.

Sell more books on Amazon

Free Download

Amazon Kindle Rankings E-Book

Learn how to rank your Kindle book #1 on Amazon with our collection of time-tested tips and tricks.