Letting the Genie out of the Bottle: Saturday Writing Sagas 10

Looking for the Genie – June Perkins

So finally I’m commencing a novel.  I want it to be like letting a genie out of a magic bottle.

However, I don’t want to resort to a misuse of magic in all my plot turns; there is still a need for good set ups and lead in and I would like some originality. This is where I can learn a great deal from ‘arm chair critics’, or ‘ readers.’

Lately my whole family, the arm chair critics I know best, have been having trouble with some of the writing on television. We see brilliant concepts in shows like Doctor Who and Once Upon a Time – the season beginnings and finales of both these shows have been extremely well written.

However, the journey to reach these finales this season has had a litany of poor writing. One of the major gripes from my family of armchair critics has been that characters change too quickly,  or are not allowed to retain growth to something different.  They are quickly back to what they began as ‘ good’, ‘evil’.

They just keep playing with us a little too much. Rumplestiltskin, that complex figure, courts darkness but  is ever protective of the ones he loves, until it involves his own fate and then suddenly doesn’t care at all about death – finally courage?? The Evil Queen in Once Upon a Time was on the path to truly changing to a pathway for good due to her love for Henry.  Yet, she went back to being bad at what seemed the drop of a hat, the death of a mother she thought who never loved her who turned out to love her.

We were really starting to believe she could change, but the writers took that away, only to bring back  her potential goodness in a massive hurry in the finale.  Does torture and a stealing of your option for destruction of everyone you hate really create a back flip as quick as that?

The whole fatal flaw thing can simply be overdone. The effect of change, return to status quo, is to make us feel a lack of progression.  To feel that the same scene is replayed over and over again.

Don’t get my children started on Snow White/Mary Margaret and Prince Charming in the modern day!  Mary Margaret the tortured murderess  is difficult to take. In the past well she’s highly admirable for her ability to see the goodness in everyone.  Is it progression for her to want to murder someone or a regression?  Where do you go with a ‘perfect’ character?  Do you have to corrupt her?

Snow White
aizawasu- flickr creative commons

As viewers/readers we want progression, a new path, not just a stuck in the groove plot/broken record character.  So often this season Once Upon a Time sub-plots had this feeling. This is despite the borrowing and transformation of a large number of popular culture stories.  Lately it has even felt like Mulder and Scully have started running around in the plot.

What is left in Once Upon a Time when you remove all the layers of intertextuality? Mind you some of my favourite shows, like Get Smart, Bewitched and I Dream of Jeanie don’t have much progression, but the humour is the broken record, and you can predict the plot every time but have a rollicking time arriving to the same point each time.

In other kinds of television, such as Doctor Who or Once Upon a Time, this does not work as well because they are also trying to excite us with the new, their predictability is the unpredictable – the predictable becomes the twist in the plot.  Yet if it’s there just for the sake of it, without an internal common sense naturally arising from previous events the viewer feels cheated.

The thing is television writers can’t know that the dynamics of their plot will take a certain course in a season.  Viewers will side with certain characters and take on their cause.  They have already set the ball in motion and can’t respond to the viewer’s alliances. The thing is some actors can make an awful character on paper have humanity,  this may be the intention of the writer, but it might be that they believe you will never truly trust them.  They can’t fully predict your response.

Another complaint is that the plot is just too full of surprises, that the magical or scientific, adventure vehicle doesn’t have enough coherency or there are too many coincidences.  Doctor Who did have some amazing connections throughout it’s plot this season, and did seem to do it a whole lot better than Once Upon a Time.   The thread of the Impossible Girl and the curious Doctor who can’t solve her mystery, was clearly there, and understandable in the finale.

By comparison this season Once Upon a Time had so many twists and way too many story lines as to seem contrived too much even for fairytales.  He’s a stranger, looking for his father, no he’s not looking for his father, oh no there is a bigger employer outside it all. As for Doctor Who the jury is still out on the quality of some of the acting.  This season has seen some wooden acting, and a feeling of going through the motions despite the interesting storylines.  Is this the actors or the writing?

Is there enough in the script and the stories?  Are there simply too many things packed into each episode leaving little room for character development?

One show’s writers doing it well are those Person of Interest.  With a small cast of regular characters who progress, but well written regulars and guests the plot and characters seem to be gently but interestingly progressing, even the machine!  This is by far my favourite show from a writing view point, but also from the characters and acting point of view too.

There are just enough twists and turns, the character development is subtle, understated, not like a sea saw that will make you sick!

i put them in a bottle
Damsel Fly – Creative Commons

I have been down this  novel writing road before, but it was a swift free write journey for one month of Nanowrimo and  ended up at the bottom of an electronic drawer. Not this time.

This time as well as keeping in mind the armchair critics, I have a different approach,  and from an overall treatment of my novel have begun with key motifs free writes (meditations on key symbols of the novel) to thinking about structure and then onto research, google is great for that but also research from people.

Then my journey for writing the novel will begin.  No doubt there will be some going back into the cycle, of reflecting, research, creating and checking the world of the novel makes sense and is consistent.

So from magically imagining a plot out of an empty bottle, armchair critics and google I think this novel writing is going to be quite a ride and despite some annoying writing I will keep watching Doctor Who and Once Upon a Time  hoping for much better writing next season. I am so glad Person of Interest has been renewed for another season.

(c) June Perkins

Published by June

Writer, photographer, lover of unity in diversity in thought and humanity - poet by nature, world citizen

16 thoughts on “Letting the Genie out of the Bottle: Saturday Writing Sagas 10

  1. Just want to say that I’m thrilled, excited and proud–if that’s okay–for you to begin your novel!! And I absolutely LOVE the notion of “letting the genie out of the bottle”! Maybe that’s how I need to approach my unfinished novel–thanks for the tip!! God bless you BIG–let us know how it goes, okay? Love, Caddo


  2. Thanks so much Caddo for you encouragement. I am enthused about the idea I have for this novel, and can’t wait to really be in the thick of the writing, but also feel the process of this book is going to be important to finishing it. All the best for your novel, I abandoned my first one and felt there was a reason I wasn’t ready to write that one but this one is calling strongly.


  3. I’m excited to hear of your project, June. I often read scripts of movies I like, or revisit the novels they’re based on.
    Some of my most favourite fantasy scripts:
    Bladerunner, Dune, Labyrinth, Legend, Avatar, How To Train Your Dragon, the Discworld series as novels, Arabian Nights, Life of Pi, 2001: A Space Oddessy, Tideland, The Imaginaerium of Dr Parnassus, and Perfume: The Story of a Murder. I haven’t bothered including J R R Tolkien or C S Lewis – they’re in a league of their own. And the only TV fantasy or Sci-Fi series I’ve ever been glued to since Star Trek, is Game of Thrones.
    The reason I applaud the above: the characters are well-developed and very convincing, the stories hypotheses are sound; they transport you (and I take some convincing), and there are very clever twists and endings. Also, the casting, photography, SFX and sound must be able to carry the story well.
    Hope yours create a new level of magic and a world of memorable friends.


  4. Thanks so much for sharing that list I have watched quite a few of these, but hadn’t heard of Tideland, which reminds me I so want to watch Life of Pi, have read the book and the family have been on a massive star trek journey – looking at the movies with Mr Spock.


  5. Yes, letting the genie out of the bottle is a terrific metaphor for beginning a novel. I find most TV these days very haphazard in plot and characterisation, as you say, and little of it holds my interest. But I love the Westeros books by George RR Martin, and Game of Thrones is my favourite show of the moment. The casting and acting is first class, and since the books were written by a real writer who created his world and ‘let the genie out of the bottle’ the TV show has a gorgeousness and consistency missing from other shows where too many writers muddy the waters. I know your world will be magical.


  6. Thanks Gail – I do want to catch up with Game of Thrones, I did watch some of it and it was absolutely enthralling and also gut wrenching – until then I should begin reading it, doing a lot of reading at the moment too. I am not sure with the television writing what is going on, there are some well written tv shows out there, but I wonder what happens behind the scenes in the writing – as often it is a group of writers and it must depend on the discussion.


  7. Mine has stayed with me, just won’t die–so I guess that should tell me something! You’re right that the process is very important–since joining the blog world, my discipline for the novel has fallen off…


  8. Yes, I reckon if the idea keeps persisting that does tell you something. There are so many distractions to the writing task.
    I am in the process of writing up a few timelines to keep myself on track and trying to keep off my blog and social media more to dedicate enough time to projects.
    At present I keep waking up a lot early in the morning, so that’s become a major writing, research time.


  9. I find a lot of writing for television is predictable these days. I know it’s not something you are supposed to admit too but I find watching reality TV gives me some great ideas for character writing. People can be so unpredictable and complex when under stress. When my family make fun of me for watching Survivor or Celebrity Apprentice I tell them it’s research. 🙂
    I agree with you that blogging does come off second best when a major creative writing project is underway. During those times I tend to keep my blog alive with photographic posts. I find it relaxing after hours spent immersed in my novel.


  10. I think many secretly check out reality tv – just to see what all the fuss is about. I have watched two episodes of the Kardasians, and I can truly say that it would not inspire me to write anything or watch it again, but Chloe actually seems quite bright – and was hilarious in going to an acting class. I did watch a bit of Celebrity Apprentice both Australia and America but found it so artificial with the challenges part. A great idea to do more photography posts when busy writing!


  11. I like Celebrity Apprentice because of the way people melt down when under pressure. Great grist for the writers mill there.


  12. June, this is really wonderful. Wishing you the best of luck! So glad that you are inspired to do this. Like you I have a “filed away” NaNoWriMo novel. Maybe one day I will be inspired like you…


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