5 Writing Lessons from Wicked

For my birthday this year, I got to see the musical Wicked for the very first time. I’ve been a musical fan my entire life, and I can’t believe I never got to see this show until now. Honestly I was a little disappointed, but I think that’s just because my friends hyped it up too much. Or maybe because I’ve seen Idina Menzel in concert and you can’t beat the original Elphaba. However, while I was watching the musical I realized that you can learn a lot about writing from the show. Here are five writing lessons from Wicked:

1. “Once you’re with the wizard, no one thinks you’re strange.”

Most people think writers are weird. At least that was my experience growing up. I was the super shy girl who read and wrote in notebooks all the time. And then once I got serious about writing and changed my college major to creative writing, nearly everyone asked me But what are you going to do for a living?

The sad truth is that no one is going to take you seriously until you publish something. Being a creative writer is like being an artist, and it’s a tough business to get into. But, like Elphaba, you have to realize that your talent is incredibly important. You will make a difference in this world if you don’t give up.

2. “I’m defying gravity, and you won’t bring me down.”

There will be lots of people who tell you you’re not going to make it as a writer. They will say you’re not good enough or that it’s too hard, that getting published is impossible.

Don’t listen to them.

You can do this. Put in the work. Don’t give up. And defy gravity.

3. “Maybe I’m brainless. Maybe I’m wise. But you’ve got me seeing through different eyes.”

One of my favorite parts in Wicked is when Elphaba says she wishes she could be beautiful for Fiyero, and that he shouldn’t lie and say that she is. But he says he’s just looking at things differently. I think this concept of looking at things from another perspective is so important to writers. That’s our job—to look at topics from different angles and tell a story. And that’s what the musical Wicked does—present another perspective on the story you already know to show you that the villain might not actually be the villain.

Wicked Stage
I saw Wicked at the beautiful Aronoff Center in Cincinnati.

These last two come from the structure of the story rather than the story itself.

4. Villain Story Arcs

Prequels and retellings seem to be pretty popular these days. Wicked is an awesome example of retelling a familiar story from another viewpoint. The show gives you the backstory of the Wicked Witch of the West, and then runs parallel to the story we know of Dorothy’s adventures in Oz to tell the audience what really happened when a tornado brought Dorothy from Kansas.

If you’re like me and love making fairy tales your own, try taking a familiar story and looking at the story behind it. This is what Gregory Maguire did when he wrote Wicked the novel. You never know what you might uncover.

5. The Importance of Backstory

Not only is Wicked interesting in the way it gives you the backstory of a character you already know, the musical shows just how important backstory is in general. Backstory is whatever happened to your character before the story opens. For Wicked, the entire first act is the backstory to The Wizard of Oz, and the second act runs parallel to the familiar story. The backstory sets up the story better and gives you greater insight into who the character is.

However, that doesn’t mean that readers want to actually see the backstory. The point of Wicked is to show the backstory, but in regular books the backstory should be hovering underneath the surface of the story. You as the author should know a lot more about the story than what goes into the book. You should know your characters’ history and why they act the way they do. And this knowledge should infuse every word you write about those characters. As Wicked shows, knowing a character’s past can change the whole story.