A thought struck me as I was rereading passages from some of my older, unfinished works: “Wow. I’ve certainly changed in the last decade.”
Rereading old works can be both cringe-worthy and heart-warming. Cringe-worthy because, hopefully, if you’ve been working to improve yourself, you’ll be thinking, “Good grief, I had NO grasp of pacing,” or “My magic system in this story made NO logical sense,” or “AHHH! SO MUCH FORCED CHARACTER DESCRIPTION!” (I’ve always been über-descriptive in my writing, so that’s always been a problem of mine.) But the cringing will hopefully be followed by the realization that, “Hey, I’ve come a long way since then. All those problems seem so obvious to me now and I know how to avoid them.”
I don’t know about you, but I also always get a warm, slightly nostalgic feeling when I reread my old stories. I’m like a parent amused and indulgent with her children’s finger painting and story-telling antics. They might not make sense in the adult world I now inhabit, but there’s a great deal of old-fashioned charm in the nonsensical-ness. Horses used doors and buckets, magic was thrown in willy-nilly to make up for a lack of opposable thumbs and tornadoes were a perfectly acceptable method of transportation.
Most of my early stories were based off of toys that I had and the various quirks of the toys got worked into the story. For example, in Jewel and the Skyrunners, the Skyrunners are a herd of pegasi based off a tiny, multi-jointed toy horse I named Jewel. Jewel came with a butterfly hair clip that could be used in a young girl’s hair or could be clamped around Jewel’s waist, making Jewel into a Pegasus. Thanks to this hair ornament, in my story, the Skyrunners were not born with wings, but had to go a kind of initiation ceremony where they would bond with a pair of semi-sentient creatures (called “Wings”) in a symbiotic partnership. But Jewel, for some reason, is constantly rejected by the Wings the first two times she attends the initiation, so she and her reluctant friend Sea Star travel down to a forbidden valley to try to get Wings all by herself…
See? It doesn’t have to make sense, but inspiration can come from anywhere. While a lot of the details in Jewel and the Skyrunners are forced, not well-explained, under-developed, and, of course, unfinished, I still have a great deal of affection for the idea and I’m impressed that, at 12, I was able to come up with something that made as much sense as it did!
I’ve also noticed another trend in my writing. My first real attempts at writing a novel happened in 8th grade. I was 11 years old, we had just moved to a completely new area, and I was introduced to the word processor. Handwriting was always time-consuming and I never developed a knack for it like some writers do. (Foxglove has filled dozens, if not hundreds, of notebooks with handwritten notes and scenes.) I was fascinated by the clarity of the font and the twin wonders of “Save” and “Print.” That was when I really committed to writing down the stories that I’d been playing for years.
The first one was Rose and Violet: The Beginning of Darkness (the first book in a planned trilogy), closely followed by a weekly journal in Fiction/Poetry class in 9th grade, which resulted in Jewel and the Skyrunners. Both of these early stories featured a pair of female equine protagonists who were not blood related, but were as close as sisters. For Rose and Violet it was, obviously, Rose and Violet, a pair of fillies from the Herd of Flowers, a group of semi-magical multi-colored horses living in what was essentially the Great Valley from The Land Before Time (minus the dinos.) In Skyrunners, it was the pegasi mares Jewel and Sea Star. In both instances, the two are opposites. Rose and Sea Star are timid, shy, docile, responsible, appear weak, and are very leery of breaking the rules. Violet and Jewel are bold, exuberant, wild, carefree, strong, and flout the rules of their respective societies.
Even before these two written examples, I can remember using this yin-yang duality of personality with many of my characters. Part of that may have been because having two opposing outlooks makes for great scenes and dialog, but I think a greater part of that was because I saw this yin-yang in my own life. Before 9th grade, I only had three friends, all of whom were female, strong, extroverted, talkative, and inclined to test the rules…much like Jewel and Violet. On the other hand, I was very much like Sea Star and Rose, timid, introverted, quiet, and docile. I also used animals as my main characters and rarely had any humans in any of my stories, finding animals easier to understand and relate to.
Once I was well into 9th grade though, something happened. I wrote a short story called Moon’s Fire based on a picture of a yellow unicorn for Fiction/Poetry Writing, and that story exhibits a major change. One of the protagonists and main viewpoint character was a human girl named Kira. This was the first time I had written anything with a human playing a main, positive role. The rest of the main characters were not human (a unicorn, an elf, and a forest dragon), but it was still a big difference from my previous work. I also made more of an effort to understand the geography and history of the world, something that was either ignored or very fuzzy in Skyrunners and Rose and Violet. Moon’s Fire held together a little longer than the other two, running a grand total of 37 pages before hitting a brick wall. But that was because I was writing chronologically and didn’t really plan ahead. I had a vague idea of where I wanted the story to go, but fell down getting there. Still, the writing shows a little more maturation and attention to crucial detail than my equine-protagonist stories.
The next big leap came during my sophomore year at college. I had written several short stories in high school, and thought about expanding one or more of them into a longer work, but I felt like I didn’t have enough material to create a fully-fledged novel. Then one of my fellow students suggested, “Why don’t you combine them?” This floored me. Combine them? Take elements from these disparate fantasy short stories and mix them into a completely new creation? To me, stories always stood alone; you couldn’t combine them. But this simple question opened up too many possibilities for me to ignore. So, the half-elf Melyin and the dragon Ice-Eyes from “The Ice Dragons,” the haunted knight Sir Terran of Silverlake, the mysterious Lady Foresta of Goldenwood, and the Labyrinthine Forest from “The Labyrinthine Forest,” the merciful Unicorn of Water and her unnamed supplicant from “The Harp,” and the evil king, murdered poet, and cursed pen from “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Sword” all came together to make a new work, currently titled Rinamathair.
Individually these stories are fairly amateurish and weak, but putting them together…aye, that could work. I delved deeper into world creation, history, and geography, inspired in part by J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Simarillion. I wanted to mimic that sense of depth and history that Tolkien’s works exhibit, although my own story is (I hope) quite different. Rinamathair was the first time I actually designed and drew a map of the world, wrote a creation story (that has impact on the main story) and consulted Behindthename.com for the meanings of names. Also, the human characters are growing in number. Melyin is technically half elf, but she was raised among and therefore acts mostly human. Ciar (the now-named supplicant to the Unicorn of Water), Sir Terran, and Terran’s lady Lea are all full-blooded humans. Ice-Eyes is the only non-human and non-humanoid to be part of “the main group.” The Unicorns of Fire, Water, Wind, and Earth have their own roles, but they are more supporting and peripheral. As you can see, the action centers more and more around humans and humanoids.
I still didn’t pull completely away from non-human characters, even in Mariner Sequence, the next step after Rinamathair. Mariner Sequence features humans prominently. Ryn, Marella, Erasmus, Scion, Janus, Manuel…they are all humans. Eventually you’ll get to meet the Vuorien, but they are still humanoid and only one is featured prominently. The only non-humanoid that features at all as a character is Krut, the Dragon-King, who you don’t meet until at least halfway through the book. And I must say that, out of all my works so far, Mariner Sequence is nearest and dearest to my heart. It has the strongest plot, characters, and world out of all my creations.
Astral Rain, my other major work at the moment, was conceived before Mariner Sequence, but wasn’t really fleshed out until after Mariner Sequence was underway. Because it’s influenced heavily by anime and manga (in fact, I hope to make Astral Rain into a manga one day…or even an anime!), Astral Rain is heavy on character development. The plot is still a little shaky, but that’s mostly due to neglect on my part. But it’s also the first of my works to feature no non-human characters. Granted, they might have freaky-mystical powers, but they are still humans. There are no dragons or fairies or unicorns. It’s still definitely fantasy (or sci-fi fantasy even) but the traditional magical creatures are lacking.
This was a huge step for me as a writer, looking all the way back to Rose and Violet which had ONLY non-humanoid characters. From brightly colored magical horses to brightly colored magical people…okay, so maybe I haven’t changed quite as much as I thought. But, I have still improved my craft, my plotting, my characters, my diction…everything, I hope, has improved. I sometimes miss those days of anything-goes-I’ll-make-it-make-sense that characterized my early writing attempts, but I’m also happy to see that I’ve matured enough as a writer to create a story that people who don’t have toy horses with barrette wings can read, relate to, and enjoy.