Folktales (or, fairy tales) are a convenient source of inspiration. Adaptations of the Grimm Brothers’ tales are especially good at inspiring new stories. Whenever I read one to my daughter, I think of ways to absorb familiar elements into retellings.
Most of the time, I jot down my ideas in a few lines for for later. One of these stories poured out into an eight-page outline that could result in a 30,000- to 45,000-word story. This novel (or novella) will feature iconic characters from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and the friendlier “Snow-White and Rose-Red” within a fantasy world based loosely on Germany in the Twelfth Century.
My daughter is a storyteller. She collects words as readily as rocks and plant seeds. While bits of nature fill her pockets, her mind fills with tools for her stories.
As soon as she knew how to speak a sentence, she recounted her observations in rambling detail and her dreams in disturbing clarity. She not only tells the story, she performs it. Her hands wave in the air and her voice changes to set the mood.
This is the micro version of her favorite story to tell when she was four years old. She insisted it was “the good story”. I would try every time to rewrite the story into a happier version, yet she held on to the key points that gave her versions a darker tone.
Her versions are better, anyway.
This is the last part of my 15 Every 15 series. Keep an eye out for the graphic cards all together in an upcoming post, and please feel free to comment on your favorite part of the series. Thank you for reading!
“I’m not a writer. I’m not a writer,” I would tell myself more often in the past few years. The truth was, “I’m not writing.”
Giving birth to and caring for my daughter took more energy and time than I had ever imagined. She was one might call a “high needs baby“. Now that the trauma of her birth and her first few days have faded, I can joke about how the hospital kept us for an extra day to ensure we would survive at home without the staff and volunteers who would take turns holding and entertaining her. I was told that they hadn’t before seen a baby born with so much “personality”. (I suspect the word was really “obstinate”.)
I love that she has been telling us since Day Zero what she wants, but why does what she want have to be so different than every other babies’ wants?!
Anyway, after a couple of years, I started to sleep most of the way through the night. I could eat a full meal without having to hide from a child who possesses incredible smelling and hearing. (The truth is, she’s really a dragon. She had fangs and fighting instincts to prove it.) My daughter learned to talk (in a language we could understand, thank you very much, Miss Have-to-Make-Up-My-Own) enough to explain why she would cry until she stopped breathing.
My life started to settle into a new mode of normal.
The problem was normality no longer included writing.
When the urge hit hard to hide away with a pen and notebook, I would think, Writing is selfish. It takes time away from higher priorities. Yeah, priorities. Family, the small business I maintain with my husband, working, paying bills, keeping house. All that fun stuff. Writing was about as high as vacations (whatever those are).
What about if it made money for my family? Could I justify it? But…I avoid sharing my stories with others. My writing is selfish.
I thought, I won’t write much. Eventually, the urges will go away. The characters will go silent, and I can figure out ways to prevent other people’s stories from inspiring new ones. Someday, I won’t pick apart everything I see for potential story material.
Except nothing changed. Years I tried! I even attempted to give up reading, so that I wouldn’t want to respond to new ideas. That backfired, of course.
What I realized was I don’t want to lose the part of myself that writes stories. The only version of me I love is the one who speaks through the written word.
I can’t like the me who doesn’t write. The person stumbling through each day, shoving down and tying up every craving to move words from the mind to the page– she felt like death. I’d been through that already as a child, when I would hide away my notebooks. Why did I think I could deny that part of myself forever? It was suicidal.
The person who leaves essays and poetry and stories and notes all over the place, who stumbles through plots and agonizes over the rhythm of a sentence, who arrogantly declares what’s right and wrong in a piece of art, and who scatters magic for a future me to find when I no longer remember creating the spell– I love that person.
That’s when I started to remember that my daughter was going to learn how to live life by watching me. What I did not want her to see someone who dragged herself through each day after trying to cut off a part of who she was.
So I have to write. Even if it kills some other part of me, I will write.
Hello! I’m alive! A high-needs newborn nearly killed me. Now she’s a rambunctious toddler who lets me sleep at night. Owning a business, working at a paying job (to make up for the resource-sink that a business can be), and keeping a toddler thriving while she engineers possible deathtraps are activities that cut into personal time. At some point, I realized I was finding time to read without a tiny human attached to me and that meant I could write instead. My stories are developing at the running speed of a sloth.
We’ve all heard it. “Know your audience.” It’s basic writing advice in all areas of fiction and non-fiction. Without knowing who you’re writing for, you can’t really know when you’re done. Writing requires choices and a way to limit them.
My problem with this advice is self-denial. When struggling to write fiction, I try to pin the wrong audience to the story.
For technical writing, the question typically prompts an easy answer. When I was an administrative assistant in government, I always knew my audience. Business emails, letters, and project summaries were the same. I wouldn’t simply decide to spend my limited working hours writing up a report for my own sake, so I could always ask myself “What does the requester need? Does this matter to that person?”
The audience for a story isn’t as clear. I’m not an established author guided by an editor. Friends occasionally make requests, but I notoriously respond in ways they didn’t want. (“Why don’t you write an upbeat story?” I greet the challenge with an enthusiastic, “Sure!” What I come up with a short about a case of mistaken identity involving a woman dying of cancer. It doesn’t quite meet specs.)
No matter what I write, I’ve struggled to figure out who would read it. Why? Stay with me for a moment — I’m going into flashbacks.
Growing up, writing was a guilty secret. I was an artistic child, interested in sketching, painting, photography, sculpture, and writing stories, but I had a love-hate relationship with art. My life was full of little traumas…and maybe a few big ones…and not much in the way of creative support. I would watch my father draw, paint, and build. He inspired me. What he couldn’t do was encourage. That wasn’t his personality. He did his own thing and expected others to excel without relying on anyone. He also had strong opinions about was cool and was was lame.
Non-fiction could be cool. Fictional books were lame.
I was afraid of his scorn.
Story ideas, outlines, and chunks of stories were stuffed in my closets, under my bed, and under piles of clothes, buried in notebooks alongside homework or hidden between black pages. I wrote often on napkins and scrap paper, scribbled over with phrases that seemed for the moment too perfect to keep in my mind. They were easy to throw away once they were out.
I told myself that the characters in my head were too boring to need their own adventures. The plots that developed in my dreams were too strange to be understandable. No one would care about the worlds that formed throughout each day.
I couldn’t be a writer. No way. Writers were lame, starving artists, who opened their souls to the red-eyed wolf that was the reader.
It didn’t help when the private lives of big-name authors would be ripped apart by readers. See? I’d think. Writing is stupid. Suicidal. Strangers won’t only criticize your work, they’ll attack who you are. They’ll question why you write and make assumptions. Don’t you deal with that enough?
Even more complicated was that I didn’t really understand anyone else. I still don’t. When coworkers and clients talk about their personal history, I listen carefully. Something could work for a story. But, what the hell? Happy people who have lived well-balanced lives gripe about challenges that only come to the lucky, and they wonder about events that seem common to me. The ones who struggle with unique and more dangerous issues seem more familiar, but their preferences and aversions take longer to figure out.
Sometimes, I want to write to the people I don’t understand. Sometimes, to the people I do.
Always, I feel as if it doesn’t matter. Words need to be buried, anyway. Right?
Whenever I try to fit the story to a particular person, the story shifts away from that person’s preferences. Whenever I try to figure out what particular group wants, all I can think about is what the people in that group don’t want. Eventually, the entire story seems like a waste of my time. Readers will hate it.
I’m not good at writing stories for others. Not yet. I’ve lived with too much fear to connect to readers that way.
So, how do I finish anything? What do my finished stories have in common that my unfinished ones don’t?
It’s obvious, but I’ve refused over the years to accept it.
Nothing I write fits easily into a genre. I can’t honestly say I’m writing for young-adult science fiction readers, because I’ll throw in themes that are more appropriate for adults or blend the sci-fi with surrealist fantasy. My first readers tease me about the common themes in my stories — if they don’t outright complain about those themes continue to make them uncomfortable. Clearly, their opinion only matter to my subconscious as far as I can throw a story into a new direction. Editors have sent back personalized rejections that kindly explain that while they like my work, my stories aren’t a good fit for their publications. (Note: I haven’t submitted anything since my baby was born. This is old info. What’s changed is that I no longer like what I’ve submitted before. Ahhh.)
So, the answer is obvious.
Who is my target audience? It’s me.
Everyone else who likes what I write is a happy addition.
I know, I haven’t completed a “Weird Science in the News” post in a very long while. However, I have continued to collect links to science-related articles. Two of these I wanted to share today.
The New York Times’ article “Your Brain on Fiction” is a two-page opinion piece that discusses the neuroscience of fiction. In summary, researchers are finding that fiction expands upon the real-life experiences of its readers. Confirmation is nice, isn’t it?
In “Color-coded text reveals the foreign origins of your words” on i09, you can see how words from various places have formed into modern versions of the English language. My favorite part of this article is where it mentions Kinde’s future Website. His analytical program could really help when writing historically based fantasy and historical fiction. Maybe when it’s available, some of us will spend less time looking up the origin on every suspect word for such stories.
Well before I read the novel, several people gave me bitter rundowns of the saga. For example, during one night of filming for a short student film, while waiting for the director and cinematographer to work through intensive changes to a scene, a few members of the crew gave me a long synopsis of each of the four novels.
None of the crew members were fans.
I’d expected a miserable trudge through Twilight.
Read quickly and learn what you can, I told myself. And try not to let other people’s biases color my reading.
Still, I couldn’t help but expect immature writing and a clingy, weak heroine.
Was the writing immature? Yes, it was. Inconsistent, too. It looks as if it took Meyer a few chapters to figure out how to write stronger (bearable) dialogue and to show conflicted thoughts without an overuse of em-dashes.
Was Bella Swan (oh, what a name) as clingy and weak as reviewers describe her? Yes, yes, she was.
However, I saw aspects of her personality from the beginning that no one had mentioned.
Bella’s Forgotten Trauma
Meyer didn’t explain why, but Bella shows signs of emotional trauma before she meets the vampire hero.
She’s a loaner, distancing herself from people with the intention of causing herself emotional distress. She moves away from her ditzy but supposedly loving mother to live with her busy father in a place she knows she loathes. Although she had no friends from Arizona, she shows little desire to develop the friendships offered to her in Washington. Frequently, she categorizes the people around her as either those who will ignore her or those she can use.
While most readers wouldn’t recognize the effects of trauma when they see them, those traits in my mind contributed to Bella’s motivations.
Bella would be more inclined to attach to someone likely to hurt her if painful relationships were already normal for her.
Of course, if Bella never in the saga thinks back to the causes of her initial low self-esteem and tendency toward anti-social behaviors, she becomes in retrospect nothing more than a shallow Juliet character–as gullible and weak as Shakespeare’s original but without the excuse for ignorance.
For now, I’ll give Meyer the benefit of doubt.
Edward, the vampire hero, also surprised me–certainly not in a good way.
I’d expected a backstory for him that would draw readers to his side, yet he barely had a history.
His human life was sadly typical, he became a vampire for no unique reason of his own, then he refused to develop relationships with anyone outside of his family for about a hundred years.
In the novel’s present, he fixates on Bella because she’s tasty (as if we’ve never seen that in a vampire story) and swings between moods faster than a crazed monkey could fling himself between walls of a cage.
Why are his moods so mercurial? Because he’s had no experience with desiring someone? In a hundred years of hanging around human teenagers, he never developed a crush or hunger for another girl? That’s hard to believe.
Lacking backstory, he comes across as shallow. Edward exists in Twilight simply to be Bella’s love interest. That makes him a filler character rather than a believable love interest, doesn’t it?
Poor guy. His vampire father is more memorable. I think the reason so many fans fell for Edward was because of Robert Patterson, not because of the Edward in the novels.
At least the sparkling which annoyed so many readers/viewers was tolerable. That surprised me. A clip I’d seen from the Twilight movie made Edwards skin look embedded with sizable crystals that could blind the eyes when reflecting sunlight.
Descriptions in the novel made for a less unnerving effect.
This wasn’t the biggest surprise regarding the sparkling. What surprised me most was how I liked that the Twilight vampires sparkled.
Maybe in self-defense while I read, I pretended that Meyer might have done research on vampires and demon myths. (She admitted she hadn’t).
Under the delusion that Meyer wanted to avoid clichés, her explanation that vampires don’t go out in sunlight unless they want to draw attention from prey seems to twist the “vampires burn in sunlight” and “attract with hypnosis” tropes. Such an explanation makes the vampires more realistic, to me, than those who burn to ash.
Rural Washington Has Personality
One other good surprise, and one in which Meyer could probably be honestly credited for, was the accuracy and depth of the initial setting description. This was much appreciated by this gal who was raised in the States’ Pacific Northwest.
Your turn: Have you read Twilight? What did you think?