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note to self: i’ll be there for you, always

written june 6, 2021. Photo by Kristine Cinate on Unsplash I have always looked for myself in other people. I think the idea was that they would somehow hold the pieces of me that I felt were missing. That maybe, if I wrapped my identity up in theirs enough, we would somehow make a whole person. It's not healthy to live like this, but I did it anyway — burning through relationships and searching for something I couldn't quite name. It was never enough, not to be myself, but it was never enough to latch my identity to other people, either. I got close, several times — I thought I had reached the pinnacle of self discovery. I thought I had completed myself. But in the end, relying on other people to help build yourself is never a viable way to do things. It's only recently that I've started to become comfortable with the idea of being enough, as I am, on my own. Several years ago, in this same position, I would have searched for another person to attach my identity onto,

Guest Post: 7 Reasons Why the Once Upon a Time Writers Are Magic

Sky here! Today's blog content is brought to you by a talented writer, fabulous blogger, and all-around sweet and caring person, Christine Smith! Christine blogs at Musings of an Elf, and I'm so glad she's able to come share her insight with us!

As you may know, I've wanted to talk about what makes good stories great on this blog for a while now, and this post is a continuation of that. I asked Christine to come share about a show that I'm not very familiar with: Once Upon a Time. In a comment on my Breaking Bad post, Christine wrote about how complicated and beautifully written OUAT is, which seemed like a perfect storyline to cover on my blog. Unfortunately, I didn't know much about OUAT, and it just so happened I'd be taking a week off from blogging, too. So voila, a guest post was born! I'm incredibly grateful to Christine for her assistance and for blog-sitting for me! (Seriously, thank you so much, Christine!)

To sum it all up, here's what's happening: I like to analyze stories and what makes them tick, and I've dragged a guest poster into it with me. *quiet evil laughter* This post is a discussion starter, with seven great points about a well-told story. The purpose of these types of posts is so that we might figure out what makes it well-told and then incorporate what we've learned into our own writing. So sit back, relax, and take in the magic!

7 Reasons Why the Once Upon a Time Writers Are Magic 
By Christine Smith

I've always been a major fan of fairytales. Sometimes I think I inhaled a mite of pixie dust as a child, just enough to crave more, to ache for whimsical adventures and dream of flying to the stars. So when I saw commercials for a show involving all the fairytales being thrust into our own world. Well, goodbye, life! I'm watching Once Upon a Time!

I didn't know what I was getting myself into. I love fairytales, I love crossovers, I love big continuing stories. Once Upon a Time took all those things, threw them in a blender, and produced one epic (if not a bit wild) smoothie.

The basic premise of the show is about a woman, Emma Swan, who is dragged to a little town in Maine by her supposedly estranged son claiming the whole town, Storybrooke, is made up of fairytale characters. The show goes back and forth from flashbacks in the "Enchanted Forest" to current events in our world, slowly revealing the stories of these characters and how they ended up in modern day Earth.

I was hooked. But it wasn't just the intriguing premise that had me sitting around in agony every week for the newest episode, it was the way the show was written. These writers know their stuff.

So how do they do it? How do they keep us wanting more and more and more? As a writer, I ask myself these questions with every episode. Jealous of these ingenious writers' ability to weave one masterful tale. How?

Well, I still don't have the answer, but over the course of watching this show I've gleaned at least a little knowledge on their secrets. (And no worries, I'll keep this spoiler free for anyone who hasn't watched or caught up on the show yet.)

1. Surprises
I think the key to any great story is those plot twists that leave you blinking with a slack jaw in shock. The OUAT writers pull this trick over and over, seeming to never run out of one surprising twist after the next. When I'm just sure I know how a plotline is going to end up, it takes a completely unexpected turn. They take a basic storyline and flip it on its head.

As writers we shouldn't tread on the cliché paths or use the first ideas that pop in our heads. You've probably heard it before, but the first idea you come up with is probably the first thing your readers will expect as well. Brainstorm. Make a list of multiple outcomes. Take one idea and twist and expound it until it's something utterly unique and unexpected. One big plot twist can turn a good story into a great one.

And while we're on the subject of plot twists...

2. Convoluted Plots
If there is any show with a convoluted plotline it's Once Upon a Time. My brother and I like to watch it together, which is convenient, because it takes multiple brains just to make sense of the thing. There is many a time where we have to pause and figure out what this character has to do with that character, or why this storyline connects with that other one, and what does that magical item do again? It's like if you took three spools of thread and twisted them all together you'd have a map of the OUAT storylines.

Now, this isn't always a good thing. Not every story needs to be that complicated. It's nice to actually be able to remember what's going on while reading, or watching TV, or what have you. But I definitely believe having a non straightforward plotline is the best way to bring intrigue to your story. We all know the boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy and girl get married plotline. Sometimes simple plots dull down our stories. But what if the girl happens to be a well-known fairytale trapped in our world? Oh yeah, and she's the villain. Now the boy has some complicated things to work out. But, wait, now his own love just practically came back from the dead.

Interested yet?

Surprises and convoluted plots are what are going to keep your readers turning those pages far past their bedtime, trying to untangle the captivating mess you just threw them in.

3. Connections
All these surprises and intricate storylines can be quite messy, sometimes too messy. But I've seen a pattern in OUAT that helps us viewers keep track of things while somehow making the plot even more complicated. Connections.

There are a lot of fun storylines going on in this show, but if they were all separate stories then it'd feel more like they should each have their own show. But instead the OUAT writers weave them all together to make one big ol' story. Perhaps those three spools of thread are actually just one after all.

What would happen if the boy's revived love was originally killed by his new love?

Um, what?

Yep. Now we have a surprise, even more convoluted plottery, and these stories all connect. That's one of my favorite things in OUAT, and actually any story. When two characters who have seemingly nothing to do with each other actually connect in some way or another. This seems to be OUAT's favorite plot twist. The biggest joke us Oncers make is how every single person in the show is related. It's really just a show about one REALLY big family.

Yes, that was a real thing.
Okay, okay, jokes aside, it really does bring a lot of interest in when the characters have overcrossing stories. They don't have to be related of course, but occasionally throwing in a couple of characters that have an overlapping background, or their storylines cross into each other, can make for a very interesting plot.

4. Layers
Not only do the writers like to tie in all the storylines together, they add one layer after the next. They continuously build and build on the plot, making it bigger and stronger and more complicated.

As I mentioned earlier, the show goes back and forth from the past to the present, and through the flashbacks we learn more of what's going on in the current events. One plotline being covered in flashbacks is just one layer to the overall story. With each thing we see from the past, we learn something that adds more to the main plot. And when we think we finally have the full story, they add yet another layer to it. Through this the story has depth that really makes it great.

5. Loveable (but real) Characters
It's a very rare thing for a character to appear in this show that I don't like. And that's saying something because there's, well, a lot of them. Even the characters I don't like at first end up worming their way into my heart. But why? Why do I love them all so much that I ache when they hurt and grin stupidly when they're happy?

I think the answer is because these people feel real.

A lot of stories tend to forget that each character is a person and isn't just there to lend the protagonist a helping hand when convenient. The OUAT writers take every single character seriously and treat them like real living, breathing, struggling people. Despite the very fantasy aspect of the show, it's almost hard to remember that these characters aren't real. They get wrapped around your heart and aren't easy to let go. Eventually, you even find yourself sympathizing for the villains. In fact, one of the most broadly loved characters is technically a "villain".

So how do they make their characters so real and likable?

Firstly, they never give us anyone perfect. Even the sweet, supposedly flawless Snow White ends up having a dark side. She's human. Even though she always has good intentions and tries her very best to do the right thing, she's still human and stumbles. And while it was a very heartbreaking moment to see her stumble, I think it was good for us viewers. Sometimes I felt as if Snow White was a little too flawless, and, honestly, it got kind of annoying. When we got to see she struggled doing the right thing just as any other human does, I saw her in a whole new light and she became so much more real and even more loveable after that moment. But she still tries to be good, and I think that's the key right there.

We all want to relate to the characters in our stories, but we also want someone to look up to. Who wants a protagonist who's constantly going off doing dumb things and just being all around bad and annoying? That gets tiresome. OUAT has a very nice balance of heroic but human characters. People who never stop fighting for good, but still struggle as you and I do.

6. Character Arcs
Another key the OUAT writers use to seamlessly bring these characters alive and make them loveable is their character arcs. Every single character has a make or break point sometime in their life. Each character has a story—a deep, intense, important story. But not just the main cast. Every character has their own story. We usually discover these moments during the flashback scenes in the Enchanted Forest. Often through the course of the entire show we learn more and more about each character. They keep layering on the back stories, as I mentioned earlier, bringing to life everyone more and more.

The character arcs are one of the most important aspects of the show. It's during the arcs that we discover why each character does what they do, or why they have become who they are.

I mentioned earlier that one of the most beloved characters is a villain. Rumpelstiltskin causes a whole lot of trouble for our characters, most of the trouble, to be perfectly honest. He's not an easy guy to get along with—selfish, greedy, only ever does anything to benefit himself.

 By rights, we should all hate this guy. And yet he's probably the most popular character out of them all.


Well, one reason is because he's just a lot of fun. He's a very intriguing character and you never really know what he's up to. He keeps your guessing…and guessing and guessing. But I think the main reason he's so dear to our hearts is because of his character arc.

I promised no spoilers, so I'll try to be careful, but let's just say this guy isn't evil just to be evil. None of the villains are. Rumpelstiltskin had a breaking moment in his life that caused him to be the dastardly fellow he reveals himself to be. He didn't just wake up one day and think, "Hey, I think I want to be evil." His life was tragic and led him to his dark deeds.

The same for our other main villain, Regina, or the Evil Queen as she's infamously known as to most. She wasn't always this horrible person, she used to be just a normal human being, same as any of us. But unfortunate circumstances and some misguided blinded her with revenge that she can't shake.

But their stories don't have to stop there. Character arcs are woven throughout the entire show, moments that completely change our characters to be better or perhaps worse people. Someone who once was a villain may be shown an act of love that reminds them of the good deep inside their heart. Or someone we thought was heroic may fall into a bout of bad luck and decide they're tired of doing the right thing. These moments really bring these people alive and make the show all that much more interesting. OUAT has really shown me that you can never go wrong with a good, strong character arc. It adds so much more to the plot and characters.

7. Loose Ends and Conclusions
Lastly, one of the number one reasons this show is great is that it keeps you wanting more, but without completely torturing you with always unanswered questions.

I've experienced a lot of stories that just keep making me ask more and more and more questions without answering them for far too long. Making your viewers (or readers) ask questions is definitely one of the most important parts of storytelling, but if you keep them dangling for too long it can get pretty wearisome.

The OUAT writers fix this by usually tying up a loose thread or two in each episode, leaving us pretty satisfied. BUT once one question is answered they pull in a new one. Now we have to watch the next episode. Like, now please?

A good, steady stream of answers and questions woven throughout the story will always keep your readers turning those pages, but not completely tiring them with too many loose ends.


Like any show, Once Upon a Time isn't perfect, but those writers still know their stuff. You can tell they pour their hearts into making the best story they can, and have fun doing it. And that is the real key to storytelling. Don't take shortcuts, pour your heart and soul into your story, make it deep and meaningful, but don't forget to HAVE FUN. If you love writing your story, others will love reading it.

Have you seen Once Upon a Time? Do you ever watch a TV show or see a movie and declare only magic can produce such amazing storytelling? What tips and tricks have you learned from them? Share your favorites!

And thank you so very, very much, Sky, for having me over on your delightful blog. I ended up learning a ton myself just writing this!

Christine is a twenty-something homeschool graduate who still believes in fairies and checks her closet for Narnia frequently. One day she thought it'd be fun to write a book. Thirteen years and much caffeine later, she's still writing. Stories are her life. Reading, writing, watching, whatever it may be, she loves tales grand and epic and whimsical and beautiful. But her greatest love is her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Her favorite adventure of all is letting Him sweep her off on His beautiful plan for her life. You can find Christine at her blog where she muses on those many peculiar things writers think about.

(Sky here again! Just so everyone is aware, this post is coming to you scheduled, as I got my wisdom teeth out yesterday. All's well with me, as far as I know, but, you know, I can't see into the future. I'm sure I'll be all right though, if a little sore. Thanks again to Christine for taking care of the blog for me!)



    I actually only started watching OUAT a few months ago and just loved it so much I marathoned the entire thing until I was caught up. It was a little insane :P

    Seriously though, this show has FANTASTIC character arcs, like you said, and the development is insane (e.g. Captain Hook). Also, Rumple. OH, RUMPLE. How I hate you, yet love you. I think I hate him as Gold, but love him in the flashbacks as The Dark One. He's just hilariously evil

    1. I'm thrilled you enjoyed it! ^_^

      That's awesome! Isn't it just sooo addicting? I don't blame you one bit.

      I KNOW. The character development makes the show. Captain Hook, yesssh. He may or may not be one of my favorite characters. *cough, cough* And I actually love Mr. Gold. Terrible as he is. But there are time when it's just like WHY? Oh this show. Such an emotional whirlwind!

    2. Killian's character development is most definitely, in my opinion, the best of all the characters. (He's also my favorite. I think.)

      Wonderful post, Christine!

      || barefoot in the snow ||

  2. Beautifully written post!! Hmm, now I have some things to think about...

    I'm not sure if I've ever tried to analyze shows etc. to help my own writing. I may have to try that! Except now I'm thinking of a couple truly brilliant shows and just going "...Eh, I can't get there; they're to brilliant." XD

    And now I'm more intrigued about OUAT! I've heard conflicting thoughts on it but... hmm. Must find time to try it out someday! :)

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post, Christine! ^_^

    1. Awww, thank you!

      Honestly, it's not something I always do consciously, sometimes, but a lot of times I think it's more my subconscious picking up things. But there are some shows that are just too good for me NOT to notice the brilliant writing and try to learn from it.
      And WHAT are you talking about? Your writing is amaaaaziiing! I WISH I had as brilliant of a brain as yours.

      Aaahhh, it's just sooo addicting! It's literally got my favorite elements of fiction all thrust together. It can get weird and creepy though. I can't decide if you'd love it or be a little weirded about by it... It can go either way. But I definitely think it's worth a try.

      You're most welcome. Thanks for reading and commenting! <3

  3. Why do you insist upon using that dark=evil/light=good crap? Because that is what is it . . . racist crap. Why not simply state that the seemingly flawless Snow White has an "evil" side or a potential for evil? Why use racist terms as a metaphor for moral compass?


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