Chugging right along, here’s a look at one of my books, Familiar. (If you’re just joining us, you might want to read this post first)
INSPIRATION – You know that archetypal witch on a broomstick that you usually see silhouetted against the moon, her black cat inexplicably riding behind her without falling off? Usually as a Halloween decoration?
I was thinking about that image and decided to write a story from the black cat’s perspective. But I ended up writing it from both the cat’s and the witch’s points of view, alternating every chapter.
PLOT – A young woman named Aradia is a modern-day witch who attends college and works a part-time job, and when she’s not doing those things she’s practicing magic with her familiar, a black cat named Kemnebi (Kem for short). Aradia and Kem soon learn that an evil, immortal shapeshifter has been summoned to do the bidding of an unknown evil mage who has a keen interest in Aradia because of her unusual connection to the elemental spirits – Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. (Magic, in this book, is created by drawing on the power of the Spirits, which coexist with the real world and are born from strong emotions and feelings and things that cause strong emotions, like Death or a Home. And also from just…strong things, I guess, since there are elemental spirits.)
PROBLEMS – My biggest problem, I realized after gaining a great deal more experience in the field of writing, is that Aradia is a Mary Sue. She is beautiful, but doesn’t see herself that way, she acts cute and demure around her friends and her love interest, and she is Special in the way that needs capitalization. There’s nothing wrong with main characters being Special, of course. It happens all the time – Harry Potter, Clary Fray, Katniss Everdeen, to name a few – but these Special characters do need to have personalities outside of their Specialness. Aradia does not.
“Should’ve known better than a surprise party, huh?” I heard Lynn say to Aradia.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have reacted that way, but thank you. Now that I’m over the shock, I can acknowledge that it was a nice surprise.”
“You certainly know how to make an entrance,” interjected Nameless-Snake-Man.
“Yes, it’s a gift,” Aradia replied. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that you helped replace the bulbs, but I’m afraid I have no idea who you are.”
“Lynn invited me,” was his reply. “I’m Theo, and this is Samson.”
He pointed to the snake around his neck as he spoke the second name, and it responded by turning its fluttering tongue in Aradia’s direction.
“It’s nice to meet you both,” Aradia said politely. “It looks like you’re not the only one to have brought a pet. Have you met mine? Come here, Kem.”
So that was the biggest problem I could think of. Aradia was a Mary Sue who easily fell in love with Sean – the love interest who has a wolf familiar named Circe – in a matter of days. And he fell in love with her. And that led to INCREDIBLY embarrassing dialogue like:
“You’re lying to yourself, Aradia,” Sean stated. “Do you understand that? You’re so afraid of hurting someone, you won’t even let yourself try and see if you’d actually do it. Deep down you know you can control it, but you refuse to believe it.”
“Sure I can try to control it, but what if I mess up? I don’t want to take that chance. It would be too painful, and I don’t think I would ever be able to recover from it. Would you please just let me go?”
“Well, I don’t mind taking that chance at all, and I’m not letting you go. If you leave then you’ll be taking my heart with you and then I’ll never see it again.”
Why did this happen? Because Familiar, as well as a number of other books, was written in a time when I was trying desperately to live vicariously through my characters. I wanted a boyfriend and a relationship so badly that many of the books I wrote ended up being about a stupid, sappy, romance-novel-worthy relationship with only a shaky plot that was added in as an afterthought. I also contributed my own self-consciousness and low self esteem, making a character who thought herself plain but was actually beautiful, since that is what I so wanted to be true of me. I, like many young men and women of a certain age and awkwardness, wished fervently for some prince to come along and tell me how wrong I was about my looks, how I was a beautiful thing to behold and all my self-consciousness was unfounded. Since I didn’t see that happening anytime soon, I made it happen again and again in my books. And my writing suffered for it. So…
HOW I’D FIX IT – By taking all of the above information into account and changing it. Aradia would become surly and guarded, foul-mouthed and friendless, except for her faithful familiar. Kem would continue to be his proper, tightly-wound self, with his own love interest – a calico named Trinka – and his own motivations – get Aradia to open up to other human beings, stop the evil shapeshifter, yadda yadda. This could work. I think I could do it. It would just take a lot of effort. I didn’t leave myself very much to work with when I wrote this one. But I’ll try my best, because I like the idea.
Next post will be about Leaves (as if that means anything to you). See you then!
Word of the Day: Demure (adj) – characterized by shyness and modesty; reserved