When Arielle recently dusted off some of her old writing, I decided to hunt through some of mine. The purpose was kicks and giggles – after all, why not? I uncovered my first foray into NaNoWriMo – a novel titled, ‘Phase,’ written in 2009. It had no discernible plot, but it reads something like ‘if Twilight were Christian, and instead of vampires and werewolves we had shady people versus people with vague powers and moon-markings.’ Adverbs and exclamation marks abound, and everything bears the clunky, unsure signature of a fifteen-year-old attempting to do something new. Technically, I completed NaNoWriMo – the novel fades out at approximately 54,000 words. Realistically, it was a huge failure – no plot is indeed a problem, and the novel had no ending, let alone any kind of structure.
That being said, it spurred me into doing NaNo the next year, and the year after that, and every year I improved, building on old blocks. Perusing the Phase manuscript (if something this hilariously awful can really be called a manuscript) I was surprised to see how many traits still remain in my writing. Thankfully my craft has improved over the years (one would hope) but there are elements that haven’t changed.
A FASCINATION WITH SPACE
THE FINAL FRONTIER
The novel is called Phase for the phases of the moon. The novel involves shimmering moon-tattoos appearing mysteriously on the main character (subtly named ‘Luna’) as well as powers pertaining to each phase of the moon. I even opened the novel with Luna singing ‘Memory’ from Cats – because it mentioned the moon, of course.
VILLAINS SPEAKING LATIN
I love languages, but there’s a timeless elegance to Latin which apparently wasn’t lost on me, even as a fifteen-year-old blundering through her first NaNo novel. The villain (subtly named ‘The Hunter’) is a sadly over-the-top figure, oozing all the villainy of a cartoon caricature. That being said, he can be relatively pithy when he chooses to employ said dead language.
The Hunter took a sip of his wine and answered “Oderint, dum metuant. Latin. A man named Accius said that. It means ‘let them hate, so long as they fear.’ I find that to fit the situation exactly.”
I began by writing unlikely groups of eccentric people, and here I am – still writing unlikely groups of eccentric people. There’s something undeniably fun about the different dynamics and variables available within a group, and I prefer groups to one or two main characters.
And they’re all dorks.
I’d forgotten there was torture in Phase, but…there is torture in Phase. So there’s that.
Granted, I hope I’ve become less obvious over the years, but Phase features an over-arching villain even higher than The Hunter. The villain (subtly named ‘Gehenna’) employs humans who relinquished their souls to him, thus becoming Slahbra – servants of evil. Which leads into the next point…
SOULS, MORALITY, AND ETHICS
Souls have always fascinated me, it seems; and the teenaged protagonists of the novel have several discussions revolving around questions like, if the Slahbra have given their souls to Gehenna, is it possible to get them back? Or, if they now serve Gehenna, should they still be treated as humans, or as non-humans? If one kills a Slahbra, is that murder?
I had a lot of questions – and ideas I still like to explore.
SHAPES IN THE WOODS
Once Luna thought she saw something – a shape, in the woods. But when she looked back, nothing was there. She bit her lip and turned away from the window.
Crows are my favorite bird. I am allowed to have crows in everything if I want to. Don’t judge me.
I am also allowed to have pizza in everything if I want to.
STRANGE DESCRIPTIONS OF THINGS
“Come in!” said a voice which sounded like gravel being crunched underneath the tires of a cement mixer.
I wasn’t kidding.
PROVING ANYTHING CAN BE A WEAPON
Rian pulled a small, plastic sword-shaped toothpick from his sandwich and held it up to the light while Taylor took a sip of her orange juice.
“What’re you doing?” she asked around the straw in her mouth.
“Studying the advantages a weapon this size would give me,” he replied, moving his hand around with the toothpick-sword in it, as if engaged in combat with an invisible Tom Thumb.
“Why yes, who else would I be? I always say to be yourself, since there is a dreadful shortage of others to be. But you can call me Ursa.”
Luna blinked, trying to work out what had just been said. “Are you the counselor?”
“No,” smiled Ursa, “I am the school consoler. I do not counsel. I tell the truth and give advice. And occasionally a cup of tea, when it is needed.”
One of the security officers walked up to the principal. “Well, we apprehended the two, sir,” he glanced at Luna. “One of them has a bruised jaw, and raw knuckles, the other has a black eye and a cut on his arm.”
“A cut? Did they have knives?” demanded the principal.
The security officer looked uncomfortable. “No, sir. We found no weapons of any kind on them. Looks like a testosterone party.”
Most of my books these days are just long testosterone parties, really.
Let’s face it – golden eyes are super attractive and every book should have at least one golden-eyed character. It’s a fact.
Luna looked from Taylor to Rian, who was watching her seriously. “She’s scared.”
“Of course, I’m scared!” Luna exploded. “What did you expect me to be!? This has been the freakiest week of my life, and I’m freaking out! I’ve turned into a freak!”
“Try fitting ‘freak,’ in there one more time,” said Taylor, grinning.
But Rian was looking at her with an intrigued expression. “Why did you say that?” he asked.
Luna looked incredulous. “Because you said I was scared.”
“I didn’t hear you,” said Taylor, glancing at Rian.
Rian’s eyes were still fixed on Luna’s. “That’s because I didn’t say it.”
TELEPATHY IS INCREDIBLY FASCINATING AS A PLOT ELEMENT, OKAY. EVEN FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD ME KNEW THIS.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be three things: a horse-gentler, a magician, and a cryptozoologist. Thus horses, magic, and cryptids (or at the very least ‘paranormal creatures’) have remained steady ingredients in my novels.
While scrolling through Phase post-re-discovery, I told Arielle, “GOOD NEWS. MY SENSE OF HUMOR IS EXACTLY THE SAME AS IT WAS SEVEN YEARS AGO.”
Luna stared at them. For some reason, she had thought they had been Phases much longer than her. “So basically, we’re given a bunch of powers, dumped into the third world to protect it, and we have no allies?”
Rian and Taylor were silent for a moment. Then Rian said “You catch on quick.”
“This conversation is pointless.”
“So are Braille drive-through ATM’s,” said Rian.
“Do not worry, your vision will clear within a matter of moments, as will your speech.”
“It’s already been a matter of moments,” Luna said.
“Since you’re here, what am I going to do about shoes?” she asked.
“Wear them,” Asher advised, nodding wisely.
“No, I mean all I’ve got are these!” Luna held up her sneakers. “And I don’t think they really go with the evening dress. I don’t care whether or not I wear them, but the Hunter might not like the clash.” She wrinkled her nose and her tone took on a sarcastic note as she said that.
Asher grinned. “The shoes are in the wardrobe.”
Luna looked at him from the corner of her eye as she turned and looked into the wardrobe again. In the back was a pair of high-heeled black dress shoes. “Oh, lovely,” she said, still sarcastic as she pulled them out. “What next? A fairy godmother?”
“No, dinner at eight.”
“Don’t be funny.”
DEAD BODIES IN DRIVEWAYS
“We’re friends of Luna’s,” said Kristina. She smiled charmingly. “She fell asleep! Dead tired.”
Galvin gave her a sideways glance at the word ‘dead’. What if they had seen the body in the driveway?
LOYALTY + BETRAYAL THEMES
Themes of loyalty and betrayal have fascinated me since I was a bobbin, and I doubt the fascination will end any time soon.
MORE DEAD PEOPLE
“Why are we still running away from the cops anyway? It must have been five minutes,” Kristina added a moment later, pushing her hair away from her face.
“Because the police will be chasing us,” said Trey, straightening. “We just killed people.”
ALICE IN WONDERLAND REFERENCES
She felt remarkably like Alice in Wonderland when the Queen of Hearts was chasing her and she could see herself dreaming through the keyhole, but could not wake up.
References are piffle these days. Now I’ve written an entire Alice in Wonderland novel.
SUPPOSEDLY DEAD PEOPLE WHO ARE ACTUALLY ALIVE
Why waste a good plot thread, I say.
Luna looked around her, then, as casually as she could manage, called up “Where are we?”
“Montana,” Asher called down.
“Thanks. I mean, where is this house?”
“It’s in Montana, too,” he replied.
THE NOT-SO-BAD BAD GUY
I’m a sucker for antagonists who really aren’t so awful, once you get to know them. Bonus points if they inch reluctantly over into protagonist territory.
LORD OF THE RINGS REFERENCES
After several minutes of sitting in perfect silence, Luna said “I’m bored.”
“Okay.” Asher flipped out his cell phone and blew out a breath.
Asher did not even look up as he said “Crebain from Dunland.”
“No, something more lucid than that.”
“Duck, they’re coming in through the window,” Asher answered.
SUAVE VILLAINS AND SPUNKY HEROINES
Granted, villains need more characteristics than ‘suave’ and heroines need more characteristics than ‘spunk,’ but they’re still a staple.
“I don’t care for your compliments,” she told him, amazed at her own boldness.
“Nevertheless, you shall have them,” he replied with a gallant bow.
Of the literal kind (Phase had a character who wore a ski mask and never removed it) and the figurative kind (because intrigue is so much fun to write).
Going through old writing can be cringe-worthy, but it’s also an interesting look into what makes you tick as a writer. Rather than avoiding old writing (because let’s face it, wading through it isn’t really our first choice as we like to preserve what dignity we have), facing it can be hilarious and even helpful. It can show you how much you’ve improved – and we can always use that encouragement.
DON’T GIVE UP ON YOUR WRITING, EVEN IF IT MAKES YOU CRINGE. ONE DAY YOU’LL LOOK BACK ON IT AND LAUGH. And possibly burn it all. (But laugh first.)