The real meaning of “Meta”

Okay, this is exactly why I get so annoyed when fandom refers to the writing of any commentary on a show or book that isn’t itself story-telling (i.e., fan-fiction), as “meta”. Witness: last night’s episode of Once Upon a Time.

In a previous episode, the Mayor (AKA Evil Queen in the Fairytaleverse) found the “Once Upon a Time” book her son Henry had hidden from her. He has carried this prop around for the entire season. It tells the true story of everyone’s real lives back in the Fairytaleverse. Its very existence as a prop on the television show OUAT is an example of “meta”–when a story breaks the fourth wall in that subtle, non-intrusive way, and exposes itself as a story.

The Mayor destroys the book. Or tries to. But then, lo, a newcomer comes to town. He has a mysterious box. In the box, we discover, is a typewriter. This identifies him as a writer, and a more or less contemporary writer at that. Now one aspect of the OUAT television show they have mentioned repeatedly is that these characters, ostensibly modern, contemporary people, are trapped in the town of Storybrooke. They never leave, not because they can’t, necessarily*, but because no one really has a mind to. Likewise, outsiders entering the town is a strange thing. Other than Emma Swan, who as we know, is not really an outsider at all–being the biological daughter of two residents of Storybrooke–no one is new. It is a bubble-prison of the Mayor’s making*.

This week, we saw the writer repairing the tattered remnants of the story book–drying them off, weaving them back into a proper binding, then leaving it for Emma to find. This shows that the writer is, in fact, the Writer, a self-insertion of the series writers themselves, entering the story and mending it, mending hope that the spell will be broken and their old lives returned. It is absolutely necessary to the concept of “meta” that the writer be an outsider to the town. He is not part of the story. Not part of Storybrooke. He is outside the story, outside the book, mending it, weaving it.

* I found the previews for the next episode interesting. Spoilers

Why, to this day, “Wrecked” still doesn’t work for me

My understanding of Willow’s Season 6 journey, and correct me if I’m wrong here, is that she is addicted to magic for the power it gives her. But she spends this episode having things done to her. She is not the agent, she is the passive recipient. If this is supposed to be the episode where she really “turns a corner” into darkness, it fails to understand the core of that darkness completely and utterly. “Smashed” did a much better job of illustrating what her problem was.

Angel, Season 3 eps 15-18

This review contains 95% less obnoxious Angel+Baby Connor squeeing than the last. I promise. But I just have to start the post by noting their relationship, because of course the episodes “Loyalty” and “Sleep Tight” mark the tragic turn of Season 3, when Angel loses his child in Holtz’s devastating act of eye-for-an-eye vengeance.

So, ahem:


Metaphorical coffee

I complain sometimes about how doing my website/moderating the board takes up time I could be working on my fiction, but in other ways, the ATPo board has greatly enriched my fiction. I’ve made it one of my goals in life never to take a literature class (don’t ask me why, I have no principled reason, the thought just makes me squirm with the potential for sheer boredom).

Talking to ATPoers with literary expertise has taught me a lot about metaphor and symbolism. I never purposefully tried to incorporate those literary elements into my writing until recently. And now I seem to find interesting symbols and metaphors in passages I’ve already written.

Like this weekend. In one of the very last chapters of my novel, I have the protagonist (Valerie, a brassy graduate student) coming to a truce with the antagonist (Elizabeth, her control-freak advisor). The setting of the chapter is Valerie’s apartment. I wrote the first draft of this chapter years ago, and in it, I naturally had Valerie wearing no shoes, just socks. It’s her house; Elizabeth comes over unexpectedly.

But reading it lately, as I’ve been working diligently on details and descriptions, I noticed there was something symbolic in Valerie wearing no shoes. When she wears no shoes, her feet don’t clomp against the kitchen tile. Valerie is always clomping. She wears cowboy boots, and they are always heralding her entrance into a room. In one big early confrontation scene between Elizabeth and Valerie, Valerie ambushes Elizabeth in the laboratory where they work, and Elizabeth’s first awareness that Valerie has entered the room is through the clomp of those boots.

Naturally, Elizabeth tenses up at the sound. So in the final scene between them, Valerie’s new softer, emotionally spent attitude is symbolized in her lack of boots. Even as she and Elizabeth seem to clash one more time, they are on the verge of an understanding, and it is symbolized by the lack of clomping.

Pretty cool.

Now I find myself actually trying to incorporate more symbols and metaphors into my novel. Like with coffee. Nearly all my characters drink coffee (maybe too much, maybe I overuse this little detail). But each of their preferences in coffee says something about who they are as a character.

Felicia, who is in love with a playful artsy blonde, drinks her coffee with cream and sugar. At one point, her lover even comments of Felicia’s morning cup, “Just the way you like it. Blonde and sweet.” As the novel continues and Felicia starts having problems with her lover, the coffee she drinks becomes increasingly luke-warm and acrid.

Elizabeth, who is abrasive and a work-a-holic, drinks her coffee strong and black and bitter.

Elizabeth’s husband Arthur, who wishes his marriage was better than it was, douses his black coffee with sweetner.

Valerie, who wants to think she is nothing like her mentor Elizabeth, also drinks her coffee black.

Lisa, a teenager being drawn into Valerie’s more adult world, at first drinks orange soda, but later orders coffee and douses it in cream and sugar to make it palatable, but then doesn’t drink it. At the end of the novel, when Lisa has started coming into adulthood, she orders an mocha espresso and drinks it down. Grown up, but still sweet.