Still, plenty can be celebrated in the retelling of an old story. The reader (or, in television’s case, the viewer) is given so much opportunity to take apart and put together the organic puzzle that is a good story. Where does the story start? How will it end? Where are you, the storyteller, taking me? What can I expect, and will I follow along when you do the unexpected?
When I originally contemplated how I would start this, ABC’s Once Upon a Time provided the perfect opening. Fairy tale characters, trapped in the very unmagical modern world. A curse that can only be broken by someone who must relearn wonderful things like hope and love. And, come on. Who doesn’t love Snow White?
Well, I don’t.
Or, I didn’t. As a study in human relationships, Snow White is fine for dysfunctional mother-daughter character study. But as a romance...? Do girls really want their Prince Charmings to go around kissing corpses? Am I that out of touch?
Much to my delight, research reveals that I am wrong about the story. The “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” we know today—based loosely on the Disney film—isn’t exactly the version that was passed around for hundreds of years. (Click here to see why.) For our purposes, the current understanding of the story will work well. Not so much because I want to complain about a beloved story, but because it leads so nicely into the classic literary device that writers are encouraged to avoid:
The dreaded Deus Ex Machina.
Snow White, through no fault of her own (well, perhaps a little blame can be laid at her door), is poisoned and left for dead. What to do? How can the writer save her? Enter the Prince. He can revive her, treasure her, and whisk her away to a happily-ever-after life. Very handy trick, pulling a savior out of thin air.
Now, any writer can get stuck. Your friendless character is trapped at the bottom of a mine shaft/about to shoot the presidential nominee/inside seven glass coffins—what else are you going to do, but introduce a new character? The path of a story often paints itself into a corner. Sometimes, because of the character. Sometimes, because of the writer. Next time, I’ll talk more about where “deus ex machina” comes from and some solutions to avoiding it.
How would you solve Snow White’s heavy-eyed dilemma? Come back later in the week for more...