I have some spare time on my hands this week and I found myself watching all of Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. It’s a simple series, but a lot of fun, and I recommend watching it if you ever get bored. It did make me think of a very important point regarding writing novels, however.
First off, here’s a quick rundown on the general plot of the single-season series. This is a stupendously massive spoiler so please don’t read it if you haven’t seen the series. You’ve been warned!
Once Upon a Time in Wonderland
- 3 Brothers need some magical water to heal their mother after a fire. They aren’t allowed to take it so they steal it.
The Guardian of the water curses them and turns the three of them into genies. This happens after they use the magical water to successfully heal their mother.
- Their mother (somehow) becomes a powerful sorceress who is determined to find the 3 genies (her kids).
- The bastard child of the local emir tries to be recognised as a prince, fails and is killed by dear old daddy.
- The child finds the sorceress, becomes her apprentice and becomes a powerful sorcerer himself.
- Now both the sorcerer and the sorceress are looking for the genie. The sorceress is trying to rescue her kids while the sorcerer wants ultimate power to get revenge on his father.
- Alice (of “in Wonderland” fame) finds one of the genies and falls in love with him.
- The Queen of Hearts and the sorcerer kidnap the genie and Alice, with her friend the Knave, spend a season trying to get him back.
- The Knave was the boyfriend of the Queen of Hearts before she ditched him to shack up with a king. The Queen of Hearts gets together with the sorcerer to get ultimate power so she can get the Knave back.
What’s the Point?
So, complex? Every character knows every other character, the actions of 1 precipitated the actions of the next and the whole season snowballed from there.
Every character was related to every other character. It’s a very tight, closed storyline. It’s like a southern redneck BBQ where the family tree doesn’t actually branch at all – it just keeps feeding back in on itself.
Right now I’m in the middle of writing a long, deep, epic fantasy series which’ll end up spanning 4 or 5 full-length novels and probably 10 short stories. The urge to reuse characters is huge. It’s just so much easier than constantly coming up with new ones. The desire to add one more link in the web to prove how clever I am at crafting intricate plots in overwhelming.
This isn’t Star Wars (or the Spiderman movie franchise, or one of a hundred other examples). Every character doesn’t have to have a personal history with literally every other character. You’re allowed to have random people come into the story, do stuff and leave without realising he’s just spent 200 pages banging his long-lost sister.
Be more creative, and frankly, put in more effort. It can actually be easier to just reuse characters, but it’s been done to death.