The Fairytale of Writing

21 May

royalty-free-fairy-tale-clipart-illustration-1097911[1]Once Upon a Time… no, this isn’t about writing fairytales. As a child I loved fairytales, so by natural extension when Once Upon a Time aired, I was right in front of my TV, popcorn in hand.

In a recent episode (The Miller’s Daughter) one of the main characters, Mary Margaret, aka Snow White, was handed a life-altering decision. That got me to wondering whether, my black moments are truly as dark as they should be. Am I putting enough at stake? Maybe not.

All her life, Snow has battled against dark magic by doing the right thing. She holds tight to goodness. That’s what her mother taught her. That’s her core.

Her defeats teach her that good doesn’t always triumph. As a child, she had the opportunity to save her mother’s life, but to do so she’d have to choose someone else to die in her mother’s place. She couldn’t do it and her mother died.

Now the black moment. Snow is forced to make a decision that goes completely against her being. In “The Miller’s Daughter,” Snow’s choices are to either give Regina and Cora (the truly bad guys) Rumplestiltskin’s dagger, thus giving them completeth[3] magic power and saving her childhood nurse, Johanna. Or she can retain the dagger, let Rumplestiltskin die (who has turned into sort of a good guy, and she’s just found out he’s the other grandfather of Snow’s grandson), which will keep the people of Storybrook safe.

Snow ends up giving Regina and Cora the dagger in exchange for Johanna. Their reunion is short-lived when Regina murders Johanna anyway.

Each time Snow has done the right and good thing, it has cost her dearly. With the death of her childhood nurse, she tells Prince Charming she doesn’t care about justice anymore. Wow! This is our hero, Snow White.

If you don’t watch “Once Upon a Time,” it’s well worth the hour. It is so valuable that I’m thinking of counting that time as a writing class and taking my cable bill off my taxes. Um, maybe not.

Here’s the trick (and it sounds easier than it is):

  • Root the current crisis in with the hero’s past.

Thus making the crisis more personal and more rooted in their core.

  • Give the character two choices, neither of which is good.

The consequences of the two choices need to be really bad and worse.

  • Then force your character to pick one.thCAYUR9E3

They have to make the choice or something even worse will happen.

In stories, as in life it’s all in the choices. You have to make your characters—all of them—the products of their choices. It’s more work, but your stories will shine for it and be memorable. The Miller’s Daughter is one I’m going to use as a template. If you’d like to read the whole synopsis, go to

How do you make your characters memorable?

How do you make your black moments dark enough?


16 responses to “The Fairytale of Writing

  1. stephanieberget

    May 21, 2013 at 8:25 AM

    Wow, Peggy. This is an excellent blog. I am searching for ways to make the black moment in my current WIP worse and your analysis gives me a starting point. I’m going to look at the synopsis now.

    • Peggy Staggs

      May 21, 2013 at 9:28 AM

      I know when I watched that episode I was glad I’d DVRed it so I could watch it again. I’m glad I could help,

  2. marsharwest

    May 21, 2013 at 8:25 AM

    Oh, my goodness, Peggy. Boy did you nail me on this one. I really struggle with making bad things happen to my characters. I’ve run across the choice thing in an oline class I’ve taken, and that idea really helps me. But still it’s a struggle.
    I don’t watch Once Upon a Time. Started, but it became too complex too quickly. I don’t know, maybe I missed a night or two. 🙂 I do watch Grimm, though, and there’s a similar conflict there. People who should be enemies because of past happenings, (as you mention) find a way to work together.
    Good post, thought provoking.

    • Peggy Staggs

      May 21, 2013 at 9:31 AM

      Thanks. I know what you mean about Once Upon a Time being complex. It’s a great one to get on Netflix and watch in order. It isn’t one you can skip around in.

  3. Janis McCurry

    May 21, 2013 at 8:47 AM

    I don’t like making my characters suffer enough, unfortunately. Add to that my sense of practicality and it’s hard for me to invent fantastical conflicts.

    • Peggy Staggs

      May 21, 2013 at 9:32 AM

      You need to enlist the help of your fairies.

  4. Jennifer

    May 21, 2013 at 8:55 AM

    I want my characters to be happy so it’s hard for me to give them impossible choices. Thanks for reminding me how much this will enrich my story though.

    • Peggy Staggs

      May 21, 2013 at 9:35 AM

      But just think how much more they will appreciate the good times if they struggle a little.

  5. Corina Mallory

    May 21, 2013 at 9:16 AM

    I love that moment when something you’re watching or reading just for fun suddenly whaps you upside the head and says “pay attention and maybe you’ll learn something.” I can give my characters impossible choices, but I struggle with follow-through. I always want them to weasel out, be cleverer than the plot, and find a third option. That’s when I get blocked because if I did it right in the first place, there *is* no good choice. I need to get better at writing those devastating consequences and letting my characters work through to the other side anyway.

    • Peggy Staggs

      May 21, 2013 at 9:41 AM

      I battle the same thing. I don’t have a problem getting my characters into trouble, unfortunately, I want to get them out too quickly. In OUAT Snow is still struggling with her decision. It ebbs and flows through each episode. That’s harder to do when you’re writing a book.

  6. Judith Keim

    May 21, 2013 at 9:31 AM

    Love this, Peggy! Yes, it’s definitely something I need to work on–giving H/H two BAD choices! I haven’t watched Once Upon a Time but have it on Netflix and will set aside time to get started. Great post! Thx

    • Peggy Staggs

      May 21, 2013 at 9:42 AM

      Netflix is the way to do it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

  7. Lynn Mapp

    May 21, 2013 at 9:16 PM

    Peggy, I don’t do this well. I try to protect my “people” and I need to stop.

    • Peggy Staggs

      May 22, 2013 at 8:26 AM

      I know what you mean. It’s so hard to be mean to the people we’ve created.

  8. maryvine

    May 23, 2013 at 11:29 AM

    Good question. I don’t know :-). I need to think about how to make things “darker” each time I write.
    I do need to hear this message Peggy, so thanks.

    • Peggy Staggs

      May 23, 2013 at 3:56 PM

      It’s hard to take everything away from a character so they can have a happy ending. In my latest book my heroine’s blackest moment has already happened now she is determined to keep it from happening again. I hope it works.


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