*glances at title* That’s a quote from Milo and the Phantom Tolbooth. *nods* I’m gonna talk about the evolution of my writing and myself as a writer today–because a) it’s an efficient way to introduce a bunch of my projects at once b) when it comes to the earlier projects, it’s…a bit more than amusing. The idea to do something on my earlier projects was inspired by this post by Maya and this post by Sarah Baran.
So yeah. Y’all ready to do some cringing?
Also, I get to use the timeline, which is fun. Behold:
The Beginning, c. 2014: Grim starts off, as everybody does, by ripping off the Lord of the Rings
The Realization, c. 2015: Grim realizes she’s ripping off Tolkien and makes a lame attempt at originality
The Eldest Child, c. 2017: Grim discovers first person POV and finishes her first full length novel.
The Company, c. 2018: Grim actually makes some writerly friends and finishes her second full-length novel.
The Burnout, c. 2019-2020: Grim gets busy with life and stalls on a 450 page WIP
The Light at the End of the Tunnel, c. 2021: Grim discovers her genre, as well as finally kinda developing a writing voice
Way back in the good old days, when I was a pre-teen and didn’t know the meaning of the term ‘FAFSA’, I decided I wanted to write a novel.
I also read and watched the Lord of the Rings for the first time at around the same time. Bet you can see where this is going.
My novel was going to be a sweeping, epic tale of some elves, a dwarf with whom they argued a lot, a wizard, and a totally-not-Hobbit, off to destroy magical staffs by throwing them into the Enemy’s volcano so he couldn’t get hold of them and use them to gain unlimited power.
I wish I were kidding.
Behold, the council of Not-Elrond, Not-At-All-Precious,
“For many years my friends” he [the elven king] went on “for many, many years we have fought with the folk of darkness. But not since the Time of Shadow have we actually waged war with them. A battle here, a spying expedition or two there is the way it has run. But now it is quite obvious that something quite devastating, war or worse, is brewing. And is there a particular reason for it? That is why we are all here my friends. In a word, we are deciding the fate of this country.”
Naturally, I also had Rohan (Imran), featuring Helm’s Deep, and a couple scenes straight out of LotR. Only a few samples of this survive today, but those that do—yeesh.
Thanrysk found Voldank sitting atop a hefty goblin, attempting to remove his long spear from right in between the neck and chest armor of the dead foe.
Guys, I thought my dwarf was totally original and unique and not-Gimli just because I gave him a spear instead of an axe. *repeated facepalming*
Oh and of course I also had a traitorous guide for my good guys. Only, instead of Gollum, it was the kick-butt, mysterious and internally conflicted female elf all pre-teen girls seem to think is cool. *more facepalming*
And if these ‘Pygmies’ weren’t Hobbits having identity crisis–crisi? crisise? help–well, I’ll eat my hat.
Pygmies are cheerful, adventurous folk with a love of food and boating. The average pygmy height is four foot two. Their weapons of choice are slingshots and heavy oaken staffs. The head pygmy is called the Chirpa and at present is a stodgy old fellow with a taste for blackberries and a considerable girth. However he is still able to lead his people into battle despite the size of his stomach. Pygmies usually have short beards and all pygmies ride on griffons and can talk to birds.
Okay, that’s about all I can take of that.
Yeah, so I realized just how unoriginal I was being, and decided I would go write something unique. Sort of. I mean, it was about two kids that got whisked away to a different world to help save it from the reign of an evil wizard, but honestly, it’s not as much like Narnia as it sounds. A lot of the scenarios/characters/plot points were not ripped off of anything and were in fact, decently original, to my knowledge.
But I didn’t say they were decent. I just said they were decently original.
Um. Yeah. This was my awkward stage. I hadn’t yet figured out how to worldbuild, my style was all over the place, and the stuff that I thought sounded cool was honestly just plain weird. Observe:
“It is completely unique, crafted of the four gems of Ionea sealed together, garnet, amethyst, sapphire, and emerald. No particular shape does it take, but it is like nothing else. If it is visible, you will know it when it you see.”
Also, my naming skills were fab.
“…and beheld the Mist-Wall of Adrufays, which only the dead can pass.”
And three paragraph exposition upon first meeting a character was definitely a thing.
“Oh, that’s another important part of being a gnome of this here tribe. We always do our absolute bestest to name ourselves and our children something that fits perfectly. For instance, the chief has three sons: John, Lump, and Dandy. (That’s youngest to oldest, by the way.) John is the boringest fellow you ever saw, and Lump is fatter than butter. Always has been. That youngin’ has a passion for ‘is vittles unlike any I’ve ever seen! Now, Dandy, he’s prouder than a peacock about ‘is clothes (not that they’re any different from mine or yours) and never misses a chance to make them look nicer. Which is why we call him Dandy. Now, in a couple years, at the naming ceremony we hold every third year, if ‘is name doesn’t fit him no more, he can pick hisself a new one. ‘Is ‘nitiatiun ceremony is turmurrow, so he’s ‘bout old enough to pick ‘is own, if Dandy doesn’t fit him no more two years from now. If names get unfitting for someone when they’re a child, then their parents can pick a new’n for them at the naming ceremony. If there’s one thing we here believe in, it’s being frank, so we always do our best to pick fitting names.
I still find the gnomes and their crazy naming customs weirdly satisfying though.
This was also when the great tradition of grimness began, in the form of ‘The Hanging Garden.’
The hanging objects were people. Humans and elves with their arms and legs cut off, hanging upright from the ceiling by a kind of rope harness round their waists. All the people that had gone missing were there, covered with rags of their original clothes.
…”These aren’t trophies. These people were hung here alive.”
Yeesh, thirteen year old Grim was…messed up. (Like seriously, what was wrong with me.)
Now, this series was to be a nine book spectacular (dang was I ambitious)–basically, imagine if the Pevensies formed inter-universe Avengers with some other heroes who’d discovered the Wood Between the Worlds. That’s sorta what it came out to.
By the time I got most of the way through the second book, all told, I had written about three hundred pages (typed) for both series’ combined. Which wasn’t bad for a thirteen year old. But I knew I had a long way to go–I still thought my writing was horrible (it was) and I knew something was misisng. (< I am going to leave this typo in here to prove to you people that something is still missing, lest you think I have gotten too stuck-up in my old age to learn from my mistakes. 😉 Whether the missing something is typing skills or just the propensity to pay attention to what I’m doing, we’ll never know.)
Anyway, I digress. I knew something was missing, and I wanted to change. And that, my friends, is when I discovered first person POV.
The Eldest Child
Yeah, so I discovered Rick Rjordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians and I was mildly obsessed. I wanted to be that funny, that page-turning, when it came to my own books. Was it the first person POV that did it? I thought maybe.
So on a whim, I decided to try first person POV. I launched into a story with no idea of what was happening–or even the protagonist’s name. It was more or less contemporary urban fantasy, titled The Seventh Wish, and the basic premise was ‘what if those depressed, bad-tempered wishes you made in your blue moments were granted?’
Unbelievably, it worked. To me, it seemed that first person fixed all my problems–my writing had been awkward and immature, now it was smooth and natural. Or so I thought. Since then, I have realized that first person doesn’t magically fix beginning-writer-problems–it’s just really good at hiding them. As such, I’d actually recommend it for any beginner writers who are feeling insecure about their writing. You’ll likely grow out of it in time, but if you’re like me, it could really make a difference for the time being.
Now, that’s not to say my book was good. I finished it in about 8 months, a full 220 pages (typed), and it was decent, but it certainly wasn’t good. The main problem with it was that my heroine was #notlikeothergirls, and seeing as how the writing voice of the story was her voice, the story was #notlikeotherstories, and that was a #problem. Behold:
That made me get a little distracted. I tripped over one of the stairs, abruptly fell backwards down three flights and hit my head on the bottom step, which was concrete.
Cut me some slack. I’m not always that clumsy.
Yeah, it’s practically dripping with #clumsy #relatable #extremely unique. Not to mention just being…weird at times.
I would’ve been less surprised if he had taken the cream cheese knife and stuffed it up my nose.
I dunno, I guess some of it was kind of funny.
“Hurry up!” roared the bridge troll. “And yer beast’ll have to answer a riddle too!”
It took me a second to realize he was talking about the car. But Andre was quicker.
“Oh, the beast isn’t smart enough, Mr. Oglethorpe. But here’s his tamer”—he pulled Adam out beside him—“and if you get to eat the tamer, then you can eat the beast, too.”
Never mind. Maybe I should burn it. Man, I had a strange sense of humor. I mean…I still kinda do…but…y’know.
All the same, I see this as my first real success. I actually completed the full story, and it was full-length. That felt really good, and this ‘eldest literary child’ of mine is probably going to get a redraft someday, if I ever get time.
So this is where I finally made some friends. Well, friends that wrote. And that kinda changed my writing and my view of writing forever. It was so much better when you had somebody else who understood your inclination to kill off characters, as well as how attached you were to your own little world. And I’ll always be grateful (so thanks, Megan, Maya, and Belle.)
Propelled by this new motivation, I finished another novel draft in about eight months’ time. This one was closer to 300 pages, high fantasy, set in an imaginary world based on Wales, and titled The Weakling’s Diary. The basic premise was, what if the Chosen OneTM had an outcast disabled sibling who everybody hated? I wrote the entire thing in first person POV, diary format.
I’m still pretty pleased with this one. The characters were decently original, even if the plot wasn’t–but mostly, I’m just happy about the worldbuilding.
This was where I finally came into my own in terms of worldbuilding. Nowadays I’d call worldbuilding my greatest writerly strength, and this book is where that started to show. I learned a few hard and fast tricks that I think I’ll be using for the rest of my life, I developed my ‘blank edges of the map’ method of attack, and I think I created something genuinely original–something I’m still proud of to this day. Deo Gratias!
Today I wandered absently down to the marketplace. Thursday is market day in our little kingdom, the third Thursday of the month. Traders come from all corners of Cartrefun to offer their wares. It is quite a sight, strolling up and down, from stall to stall, the rich smells of meat and bread and wine, the vibrant pallet of the cloth wares, the man with the snow-white Caladrius bird in a cage. I always feel bad for that bird, with its gleaming ruby eyes, looking mournfully out at its captor. Any sick person who touches it is healed, so the man is often in high demand when he appears (which isn’t often.) It has never worked for me, though numerous times, especially when younger, I have saved up the payment to touch the bird. Today there was a large crowd around him and his keeper.
I hobbled farther away from the palace down to some of the calmer stalls where less people were. Those who sold animals were down here, and so were the beggars, for this was the way the stall-keepers, rich with the day’s coin, departed at market’s end, and if they sold well they could often be persuaded to drop a few pennies.
Also down here were those from remote provinces. Since it took them so long to get here they were always down at the end. But what strange wares they had, or strange to a man born and raised in Unwaith, at least! The girl from Ffrindiau displayed long chains of coral beads and strands of rough sea-green kelpie mane.
“Good luck, sir. These’ll straighten up your back for you, just you wait and see.”
I frowned and answered, “I’m sorry, but I’m bad luck myself; nothing going to counter that.”
She shrugged and twisted a strand of her own fine black hair around her fingers, watching me go.
The bearded man from the mines in lower Anhygoel had stone charms and chips of lucky flint, but instead of offering them to me, he clutched them to himself, as though for protection, and mumbled, “Demon,” glaring as I passed by. My face smarted and I glared back, but I didn’t feel like picking a fight.
Finally, I got to the last stall. This was always strongly frequented later in the day, but it was also the last to arrive, so here it was at the end of the marketplace. It was from Cytrefi, the smaller of the two cutter’s villages, and held the wares of the Dyfnder. In our prairie of a land, many people relied on the cured wood the cutters brought once a month. We had learned to do without wood, mainly, but the things we needed made out of wood were still quite important to us. So the woodcutters made a fair profit, but at the expense of their lives and their bodies and even their countrymen; people bought their lumber hurriedly and slipped away, casting glances askance over their shoulders at the scarred, silent faces, the missing body parts.
Although, my naming skills were still fab. ‘Cyrefi.’ Yikes.
It might also be noted that this was about the time I got nicknamed The Grim Writer. This was partially because I made writerly friends, so I had somebody to tease me about my tendency to kill people off–but partially because I killed off, I kid you not, all but two of the named characters in this story.
This was about when I started college/senior year of highschool. I also decided to write a 500 page high fantasy, A Blindman’s Tales of Emberwood. Stupidest decision ever, heh.
Definitely my least favorite thing I’ve written since I actually started finishing things. Sure, the worldbuilding was pretty good, but most of the characters did and still do drive me up a wall. The plot was extremely unoriginal and cliché, and really, it didn’t need to be a full 500 pages. (Maybe that’s why I didn’t finish it. *coughs*)
I do still like the witch though. She was pretty cool.
She took my wrist and dragged me, as she had done so many times before, to stand before the man.
For it was a man. He had shaggy hair that hung in his haggard face, and a scruffy sort of beard, as though he didn’t have the time to cut it off. He was dressed in fine clothes, but his body was gaunt, almost emaciated, and his posture was one of extreme exhaustion, bent over, as stated, with his head down, his arms resting on his knees, hands folded in front of him, eyes squeezed shut.
He was breathing very heavily through his mouth, and for a moment, the only noise was our three breaths. The witch breathed, the man breathed, I breathed—then the witch again.
She slid a finger under his chin and raised his head.
“Arise and serve me—”
And I couldn’t hear the last word.
The man’s eyes snapped open.
They were glass. Huge and empty, not clear, but mottled blue-green glass, no pupils, no whites, just that horrible smooth surface. They contained no emotion, no thoughts, no nothing—just the glass.
I screamed. I actually did it. I couldn’t help it.
She only smiled, and then she said quietly, “You see, my Albino spies for me, my beasts and my soldiers defend me from my enemies, and Emer is my companion, but this man is different. This man can see the past. And he can tell me of it. Do you want to know what the past is, Áine?”
I guess maybe it’s worth a redraft someday. All 500 pages of it. *groans*
(do note that a few of the pictured aesthetics for this story, as well as the rest, make references to song lyrics. All credit to the proper owners!)
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
Yes! Now we come to present day. Whereat my writing is still flawed, my plots are still very often kinda unoriginal and lame, and I’m still an imperfect human being.
But I’ve finally discovered my genre, so to speak. Gaslamp fantasy, with a sort of historical, literary turn, is definitely Grim’s thing, and I’m very happy about it. I’ve also finally figured out how to maximize worldbuilding efficiency/effectiveness using materials I’m already really familiar with– cough cough folk music of the 1800s cough–and I’ve finally got to the point where I can write third person POV without hating myself. And, with a lot of prayers for the intercession of St. Francis De Sales (patron saint of writers, for all my non-Catholic friends), in summer 2021, I finished Molly From Hugo. And it was really, truly, I think, by the grace of God, a good book.
I just did a post about it a couple of weeks ago, so I’m not gonna say much about it here, ‘cuz this post is a monster already, but I’ll stick another snippet in, I guess.
It didn’t lead to the same patch of land, though, despite being on the same busy street, with the same outer wall. There was an inner wall that separated this place from the Plecket Graveyard, and there was no gate into this one, and no porter’s wall. Just the archway, grown over with moss and crumbling a little in places. And atop the archway, a figure of Blind Justice. Tom bit his lip, reading the inscription over the archway aloud under his breath.
“’Here lie those who deserve no remembrance.’”
And above that, the words, ‘Crooked Graveyard.’
Every town in the country had a Crooked Graveyard. Every major town at least. Seventy-five years ago, Joshua Kimball, an Aleman, had come up with the concept. Ever since, criminals had been kept in their own graveyard, with their crimes and their form of execution emblazoned on their gravestone, and societal shame applied to anybody that entered to mourn over them.
Tom didn’t have any societal standing as it was. He walked in—a little slowly, perhaps, but who could blame him?
Suddenly the sounds of the busy street seemed to muffle and fade away. There was only the neurotic cackle of a magpie to break the silence.
There was no clearly delineated path to keep patrons from treading on the graves, like in the graveyard across the wall. The wall itself was a in a state of high disrepair, covered all over in dull green and dirty brown moss, and crumbling heavily in many spots. Only the dividing wall between the two plots was kept neat—for the sake of those on the other side, no doubt. It made for a stark contrast between the two final resting places. The trees were twisted old junipers, casting far too much shade on the place for it to be pleasant. And the grass and weeds had been allowed to grow so high that many of the graves could not be seen among them.
For a moment Tom just stood there, his hands hanging limply at his sides, frozen with nerves, his mind racing with all the tales he’d heard of how haunted this graveyard was.
The magpie kept laughing. On, and on. For a moment it seemed like some tortured spirit itself.
Then, unexpectedly even to himself, a tear ran down Tom’s face.
Like somebody had broken a spell, his anxiety vanished. The graveyard suddenly held no hauntings, and the magpie sounded only like some lonely old woman laughing at her own joke.
It was such a forlorn place, this. So sad and deserted. These people may have been criminals—but hadn’t they paid their price? Did they…did they deserve this? And moreover, did their loved ones, already broken and betrayed by their crimes, deserve society’s disdain for even daring to remember the fallen?
And on that gloomy note (what’s new), let’s wrap this up! I do hope to do another post sometime soon about my writing plans/hopes/ambitions for the future, if anybody’s interested in that. Regardless, for now, I hope you enjoyed this little foray into the madness of the past. Thank you to everybody who’s supported my writing over the years, and if you’re a new writer, I guess my main encouragement is to keep writing. Even for people who’ve been hacking away for nearly ten years like myself, writing is still difficult and still requires perseverance–but it’s still so, so rewarding, and it’s still my favorite thing to do. I intend to keep doing it. I don’t know if I’ll ever publish anything, or ever share anything with anybody but my closest friends, but so long as in some small way, my writing can bring greater glory to God, I’ll be happy.
Even if the style, the worldbuilding, the characters, and the plot never achieve any value greater than ‘barely palatable trash’. 🙂
Well, thanks for reading! Congrats on making it to the bottom, haha! Hopefully you got a laugh out of my early monstrosities. Do tell me if you’d be interested in hearing more about any of these projects–or about my worldbuilding methods (because amateur as my methods are, it’s the only component of fiction I’m well versed enough in to do a post on, haha). And if you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about your writing journeys in the comments! God bless, friends!
Dia is muire duit!
The Grim Writer
P.S. Next week we are finally going to talk about Stan Rogers! *bounces* So if you’re tired of hearing me reference him without knowing who the heck he is or why I like him so much…stay tuned haha!