Spellbound? (What This Season of Once Upon a Time Has Taught Me About Writing)

Hey, internet people! As you may or may not be aware, I’m a creative writing major. Soon to be a creative writing/literature degree holder–yikes! But anyway, if anything about me has massively changed in the past four years, it’s the way I look at, well… everything.

Okay, maybe not everything. But everything that anyone could ever possibly have written. It’s like my brain’s “workshop mode” switch has been permanently jammed in the “on” position.

Sometimes, this is obnoxious, like when I’m trying to read totally silly books for fun. I kept reaching for a pen while reading Divergent, wanting to give the PUBLISHED author suggestions about how to better phrase things. But I also catch myself doing it with TV shows, and nothing has caught my attention more than what’s going on right now in one of my ALL TIME favorite shows, Once Upon a Time. Here’s the trailer for the current season, just for fun:

I’ll preface the following with two things: one, I really do LOVE Once Upon a Time. I think it’s brilliant and clever and I love seeing the creative spins the writers put on familiar stories. Seriously. Two, there may be spoilers below if you’re not caught up on the current season, so be warned.

I’ve seen it on Facebook, I’ve seen it on Twitter, and I’ve discussed it with my fellow Once Upon a Time junkies, and the general consensus is: we’re all SICK TO DEATH of Neverland.

And because my brain works the way it does, I want to figure out just why this is. So here is what I can deduce about the skill of writing based on our frustrations with this season of Once Upon a Time.

First, Give Your Characters Some SPACE!

Let’s face it–Neverland is a tiny little island. And while yes, the events of earlier seasons were confined to Storybrooke, we were so busy unravelling stories from the past that it didn’t seem so cramped. Plus, there is a variety of scenery there (Ruby’s Diner, the school, the hospital, etc) that is lacking in Neverland. Which is, in essence, a lot of trees.

But it’s not the dullness of the scenery that’s the issue here–it’s the age old writing advice that tells us that characters sitting in a single room aren’t going to keep our attention. Characters are important, but so is the world in which they move. Setting should play a part, and as Once Upon a Time has taught us, it should play an interesting one–not just a backdrop of trees.

Second, Don’t Rush It

Was everyone as eager to see Hook and Emma kiss as I was? No? Just me?

Regardless, I think we can all agree that the kiss and Hook’s subsequent declaration of love came on incredibly quickly. This season is full of these kinds of pitfalls–the writers seem to be in a rush to set the groundwork for things that are going to happen later, but they’ve forgotten to set the groundwork for the groundwork, so to speak. Basically, Hook goes from a sexual innuendo filled hottie to a man in love without a logical transition. And did anyone else feel like the plotline with his brother/David’s injury had a similar haste involved? It’s important to get your reader (or viewer) to the exciting part, but it’s equally important to get them there in a way that makes some sense.

Finally, Keep It Plausible

This may seem like a silly lesson to take from a show full of magic and centered around a fairy tale world, but bear with me here. There’s a lot of suspension of disbelief involved in any kind of writing–we are, after all, asking our readers to believe in events that we are generally upright representing as fiction. But this past season has reminded me of the importance of working within the logistics of the world you create in order to maintain believability. I find it difficult to believe that Regina, the powerful Evil Queen who cursed an ENTIRE KINGDOM out of existence combined with Rumpelstiltskin, the man who not only taught her to do this but basically owns magic, are unable to get their son/grandson back from a kid while hanging out with him on a tiny island. And let’s not even talk about The Savior. The writers might have wanted to build a little more explanation for why we’re supposed to buy this plot aspect into the early Neverland episodes, so we get why we’ve spent several episodes stuck in limbo, waiting for the powerful magicians to do something, already.

So that’s what I’ve got for you. I hope you enjoyed my little rant about Once Upon a Time and storytelling. And I hope that despite my complaints about the writing, this season continues to be interesting.


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