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When Bad Writing Sparks Good Ideas

Growing as a writer, learning the finer points of character and storytelling, can really change the way we watch TV. Because we can now see what works–and what really, really doesn’t–it can be hard to just sit back and enjoy something. There’s always that part of us critiquing the show and thinking about how we could have done it better.

Case in point: ABC’s Once Upon A Time. Don’t get me wrong, I love that show. It’s my guilty pleasure, and I really do hope they go on for a second season. I liked the concept and some of the characters, Regina and Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin specifically, were interesting and engaging. I enjoyed some of the ways they took old fairy tales and turned them around… but sometimes it didn’t quite work out. Sad to say, but Once Upon A Time¬†suffered from clumsy writing.

It irritated me to no end that (ignoring for today the incredibly dense Emma Swan) the fate of Storybrook depended on the relationship between the two most oblivious, flaky, and emotionally cowardly characters in town. At one point I didn’t care if the curse never got broken so long as I didn’t have to hear one more word about their ‘tragic love story’.

Then, during one of the fairy tale flashbacks, it dawned on me: Snow White was the real villain. It was the only thing that made sense. After all, her every move was precisely calculated to cause the most damage while still appearing innocent or in the moral right. And this would have been great–if the writers had meant for it to come off that way, which I don’t think they did.

If they were trying to make Snow the villain and Regina the heroine, then they failed at establishing the protagonist. (Yes, I know the heroine was supposed to be Emma, but we’re ignoring her, remember?) More likely they were trying to make Regina more sympathetic and make Snow more active and self-reliant, but it backfired. I ended up with far more sympathy for Regina than any of the ‘good’ characters, and quite frankly, Snow came off as a sociopath.

Which brings us back to ‘how I could do this better’.

Maybe I’m not tackling the whole concept of the show, but Snow as the villain? That I can sink my teeth into. In fact, it sparked a Shiny New Idea so strong that despite the mountain of editing needed for Fallen Things, I started scribbling out the beginning of a new story in my Moleskine. It’s an idea that sits somewhere between fan-fiction and ‘derivative work from a common source’. The MC’s name is still Regina and her back story has some similar elements with the show, but there are some things that I already know will be done differently. The mirror, for instance, and I probably won’t be trying to wedge every possible fairy tale character into this story.

Will I ever try to get this story published? Who knows. For now, it’s just a fresh, easy thing to give my mind a break while I tackle larger projects. It should be interesting to see where it takes me.

How about you? Have you ever watched or read something that sparked an idea that could not be ignored? Have you ever thought, “I can do that better,” and made good on it? Please, feel free to share in the comments.