So I talked (whined) last week about moving goalposts and eventually concluded that the absolute balls-up (I think you’ll find that’s the correct literary term) I’ve made of writing Venetian Masks will have been worth it if I learn something.
This week I thought it might be fun to see if I actually have learned anything so far. As it happens, I’ve been writing stories based on Beauty and the Beast for over a decade now – I’ve written other things too, but something always draws me back to it. A while ago I compared myself to the guy in Amelie who keeps painting the same picture over and over again and can’t get it right, and I stand by that. I don’t know what that says about me (probably nothing good), but it makes it surprisingly easy to do a like-for-like comparison of my writing across the ages.
Some of you are probably thinking “She’s not seriously going to excerpt a ton of crappy writing from her adolescence and call that a blog post?” Oh, my sweet summer children. You must be new here.
Having said that, I’m not a monster. I’ll just do a couple this time and then maybe return to the theme the next time it seems like a good idea (or I run out of other ideas).
Hold on to something. It’s about to get cringey in here.
The year: 2005
My age: 14
Current mental state: I am unique and special and none of you understand me and also I have just discovered symphonic metal.
Plot summary: A modern-day girl called Rose discovers she is the reincarnation of Beauty. The Beast, Eduard, has been hanging around in human form for three-hundred years waiting for her to come back. (ROMANCE.) Also a witch turns up and does something.
Here, have a dream sequence:
The scent hung like a mist, draped across the beautiful garden. Rose breathed in deeply, inhaling the perfumed air. Everywhere she looked there were roses – pink, yellow, orange, scarlet, cream, climbing roses, miniature roses, rose bushes – roses everywhere. The garden was huge, unbelievably so, stretching as far as she could see, until the blooms blurred in one explosion of colour on the velvety green background. She felt very small, very unimportant; one Rose in a thousand. She turned around, helpless. The rose garden stretched on forever in every direction. She could see no way out.
Suddenly frightened, she tried to run. Her legs felt heavy, like something was pulling them down. She looked, and found she was wearing a dress, a dress like nothing she had seen before. It was dark blue, trailing down past her feet and made of some magical cloth that flowed like water, gliding across her body. Weighty underskirts dragged on the ground. She picked them up and ran awkwardly across the flawless lawn between the rows of flowers, running, running, running, running until she could run no more; running until sweat mixed with the terrified tears on her face. Still she could see nothing but roses. The heavy fragrance washed over her and she sank to the ground, exhausted. She was trapped in a prison of petals, barred in by thorny boughs; she could never, ever escape… she was stuck here, in this never-ending garden forever and ever and ever….
‘Beauty…’ A whisper in the wind, then a sigh, then all was silent. A mist settled on the garden, seeping into her brain…her senses…her life…
I think, if I’d really tried, I could probably have squeezed in a few more rose colours, a couple of extra repetitions of “running” and another handful of ellipses. Poor show.
The figure was closer now. He leaned forward, eagerly taking in every detail of the apparition’s face. Real or not, he hadn’t seen any human faces but his own shattered reflections in so long. All the mirrors were broken. Beasts have little use for mirrors.
His eyes registered each new, human, feature individually. It was a girl of about twenty-one… twenty-one. When it had happened. He swallowed, ignoring this. The girl looked anxious and slightly bemused, as though she was trying to remember something floating just out of reach in the depths of her brain. Her eyes were a green-blue colour, like a lake on a clear day, and her lips were a deep pink-red. Her red-gold hair curled gently down to her shoulders, and it had the slightly wild appearance of hair that hadn’t been properly brushed. He watched her approach in a sort of trance. She was coming straight towards the castle, in direct violation of possibility, and he couldn’t react. All he could do was stare, transfixed, into her face.
NOTHING IS JUST ONE COLOUR.
Also, this is an exact description of me when I was 14, down to a weird phase of not brushing my hair. 0/10 for subtlety.
Anyway, then nothing happens for ages until the aforementioned witch appears. No dialogue tags because apparently those are for wussies:
‘I’ll never do anything for you, you malicious bitch!’
‘Oh, but I think you will. Believe it or not, there are some things that we have in common. For example, it suits my purpose that you and he are in love. And I can use that to make you do something I think you’d rather like to.’
‘Tell him. Tell him you love him. Tell him what you told him all those years ago. Break my curse. Go on, break it.’
Beauty stared back at her. Eduard swallowed.
‘Because if you don’t break it now, you’ll never break it. They never believed me when I said it was possible. “Every curse has to be breakable”, they said. Well, that was then, this is now and this is me. Break the curse now, or he’ll be this way for all eternity. But, I warn you – if you do break it, Rose is mine. You’ll be dead forever, Beauty.’
People don’t say “malicious bitch” enough, do they?
Also… what? I mean… what?
- If dialogue sounds stupid when you say it out loud, it’s probably stupid.
- You can probably take it as read that people know you know a lot of colours. It’s not necessary to list them all to prove it.
- Self-inserts are never as subtle as you think they are (HAHA JK I didn’t learn this until much later)
- The last third of this story makes so little sense that I am honestly a little suspicious that I might have thought that it was okay to just write down some really vague shit and just let readers GUESS what’s supposed to be happening. So I suppose something else to learn from this story would be to, you know, not do that?
The year: 2005-6
My age: 14-15
Current mental state: As before but also I AM FUNNY NOW please laugh at me NO NOT AT I MEANT WITH. Twenty-four is a good, grown-up age to meet your soulmate and get married and generally have your shit together, right? (LOL.)
Plot summary: A modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast, no reincarnation, all melodrama. The “Beast” was the result of an experiment by an evil scientist (he’s half-man, half-wolf – but in, like, a sexy way) and the “Beauty” was there to babysit a servant’s son.
No word of a lie, I honestly thought I’d invented the describing-yourself-in-a-mirror thing (aka “the biggest cliché in romance”) and that I was very clever for doing so. But two years before that I thought I’d invented fanfiction soooo…
Her name was Harriett Whittley, and she was staring back at me fuzzily from inside the mirror. She had long, tangled, curly brown hair, green eyes and ghostly pale skin and she looked as if she had just got out of bed. We looked at each other for a moment, yawned, stretched and shuffled off to our respective bathrooms in parallel universes, where I solved the fuzziness problem by locating and inserting my contact lenses.
By the time I got back to my room, my bed had been invaded and there were no fewer than five cats and an eight-month-old puppy curled up peacefully on my duvet. I looked at them enviously for a moment, then opened my wardrobe, selecting at random a purple top and a pair of faded blue jeans.
‘Lucky bloody animals,’ I muttered, hopping around the room in a slightly dozy effort to insert my left leg into the wrong side of the trousers. It’s quite hard to argue with something so calm and contented-looking, especially when that something doesn’t say much beyond ‘Miaow’ and ‘Purrrr’, but I was having a pretty good go. I eventually managed to get into the jeans, and headed off in search of refreshment.
LOOK, she has BROWN HAIR and GREEN EYES which is TOTALLY DIFFERENT from me so she is DEFINITELY not a self-insert, SHUT UP. I mean she does have a ton of pets, which I’ve always wanted, and lives in a village based on the one where I grew up and is about to live out my weird, unhealthy romantic fantasy but those are all COINCIDENCES why are you not SHUTTING UP already?
This one alternated between the first-person POVs of the Beauty and Beast characters and I genuinely used to bring myself to tears writing the Beast ones. Dude had a lot of feels.
She looked tired that next day, and worried. It was understandable, really. She must have realised, if, incredibly, for the first time, that she was working for a monster. Once again, I found myself watching her from a distance, amazed and enthralled by her – by her gentleness, and her bravery.
Harriett, I knew, was different. But she didn’t seem to care, she didn’t seem to think the way the others did. I was sure that she was the only one of the people in the glass that could do what she had done, smile upon what passed as my face, touch my hideous hands, offer me friendship – and return, even after all I had done.
Of course, one thing must have changed, I was certain of that. She would no longer be so willing to allow me so close to her, to watch her with Timothy, to listen to the sound of her voice, to delight in her laughter. I could only lament the loss of that.
Harriett pulled off her jacket, slowly. She looked exhausted, as though she had barely slept the previous night. Like this, without her usual spark of life and laughter, she looked more vulnerable, somehow. It was easier to imagine her being hurt. She looked almost delicate. I felt a pang of guilt – and longing. If only I had the power to heal rather than hurt her. I was slowly realising that I would do anything for this beautiful girl who was the only thing that could make me forget, if only for the briefest of moments, the position Alexei had left me in.
Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I’m pretty sure I’ve elevated the crappy “not like other girls” trope to dazzling new heights here.
Also, pro tip: there is a line between “angsty hero” and “helpless puddle of feelings”, and this is on the wrong side of it.
I remember writing this a lot more vividly than the last one so I can think of more things that were wrong. Also, it was much longer, which offered a lot more room for boo-boos. In no particular order:
- I can’t write children. I don’t mean that I learned anything about writing them, I just learned that I can’t. There are a lot of children in this book (the heroine works at a daycare centre before she joins the payroll of Angst, Angst & Angst: Angsters at Law) and, without exception, they are there to say something cute and hilarious and to give the heroine an opportunity to top it with something CUTER and HILARIOUSER and it is embarrassing.
- The whole manfeels thing. A hero can feel that he’s not good enough for the heroine (even though we know he is if he’d only see it , augh, the delicious drama!) and still maintain a little dignity.
- On a related note, while I guess it’s okay to make yourself cry while writing if you really want to, maybe this should be more of a once-a-book thing than an every-other-chapter thing? You want an emotional punch, not constant emotional poking.
- Your heroine can be special and charming without being perfect.
- You can be special and charming without writing a fictionalised version of yourself who is perfect. JUST SAYING.
I have to go and sit in the box of shame now but there is SO MUCH MORE where this came from so stay tuned, I guess.