Folk Tale - description of story elements and quality characteristics

Traditional folk tales were the oral tradition of adults. Stories about peoples' lives and imaginations as they struggled with their fears and anxieties by telling tales. Probably helped them to better be able to struggle with them in real life. While many of these tales weren't told specifically for children it is almost certain that they too would listen and enjoy as well as develop respect for certain elements described in the stories.

Characters, plot, setting, theme, events, real life all ages problems based on real life events, setting is every time.

Story Elements


  • Characters are flat.
  • Usually very good or very bad with most characteristics exaggerated.
  • The hero and heroine are usually young.
  • The heroine is usually fair, kind, charitable, and caring.
  • The hero is usually honorable, courageous, unselfish, and caring.
  • Both usually have special abilities or powers.


  • Place is described easily and briefly (humble cottage, magic kingdom) that fits the typical geography of the culture or it is not mentioned but assumed.
  • Time is in the past (usually long-ago) imbedded within the history of the culture.
  • Time is fantasy time (Once upon a time sets the stage and They lived happily ever after closes the tale.) any time or any place, timeless or placeless, or long long ago.


  • Very simple, though interesting.
  • Thought provoking to didactic.
  • Is full of action and follows specific and simple patterns. The plot starts right out with fast moving action that grabs the listeners interest and keeps it. Conflicts are usually resolved with great deeds or acts of human kindness related to good and bad/evil.


  • Usually universal truths, lessons, and values related to people, their actions, and/or material goods that is valued by the group that creates the folktale.
  • Often the tales tell what happens to those who do not obey the groups traditions.
    1. Problems of young adults
    2. Security
    3. Fear of leaving home
    4. Fear of not having children
    5. Fear of not being loved or giving love
    6. Reflect basic values and concerns of different cultures
    7. Good and evil
    8. Right and wrong
    9. Justice and injustice
    10. Happiness, kindness, friendship, loyalty
    11. Good triumphant over evil
    12. Love and loyalty
    13. Love and loyalty can transform ...
    14. Discuss basic values of people


  • Descriptions are quick and to the point with little description and detail.
  • Plausability story is possible but not probable.
  • A promise father promises to send one daughter, if set free; promises first son, if spin gold;
  • Number three father has three daughters and three sons, and three weeks to return
  • Magic Supernatural beings Objects (mirror, beans, golden objects) Spells, Enchantments,
  • Magical transformations, Character transformed by a spell and only the love or loyalty of another character can break the spell Ugly person casts a spell on ... Spell is broken and turns into a ...
  • Run away from home Gingerbread Boy - English, The Bun - Russian, The Pancake -
  • Norwegian Cumulative Henny Penny, sequence of events or characters that accumulate.
  • Repeat phrases, develop logic and sequential thinking (for preoperational children), and understanding for more sophisticated literature. The House that Jack Built, The Old Lady that Swallowed a Fly.
  • Extraordinary animals, monster, or other animated things. Three Little Pigs, Shrek
  • Explain a natural phenomena or custom. How Rabbit Stole Fire, Why Mosquitoes Buzz in people's Ears, Tikki Tikki Temkbo.


  • Good versus bad/evil
  • Reflection of human strengths, frailities, weaknesses, or imperfections.
  • Reader is lead to new insights and/or understandings.

Point of View

  • Often third person narrative. Could be first.

Quality Characteristics



Dr. Robert Sweetland's Notes ©