How to Waste Twenty Years on One Story

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip

When I first started writing, I mean really writing, I was in love with a book called The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip. It was high fantasy, poetic, and beautiful. I still have my original dog-eared copy, bent and torn with pages falling out.

In youthful admiration of that story, I began to create a character, then a cast of characters, problems for them to overcome, a world for them to inhabit, and yes, even a ragged, poorly drawn map of the land.

And I wrote. I wrote in poetic, archaic language tinged with magic and pomposity. It was self-important, overly wordy, and bogged down in descriptions of every tiny weed and pebble.

It was catastrophically bad. But I persevered. Over the course of some fifteen or more years, that story continued to haunt me. It changed, it grew, and I scrapped it and started over countless times.

Somewhere in my mid-twenties, something shifted. My main character started speaking differently, a little less archaic, a little more sarcastic, a lot more interesting. I realized I was on to something.

I never finished that book past perhaps four chapters or so. But the day my character started bitching that her ass hurt from riding a horse so many days on the road, that was the day I realized I had to let Patricia McKillip go so I could find my own voice.

That was also the day I let go of the idea that I could write epic fantasy. I believe writing that sort of story requires at least a pinch of the poet inside the writer. I am not a poet. I write mostly urban fantasy because, while I love magic and monsters and enchanted creatures, I write in a straightforward, less descriptive style. I can get away with that style placing my story on the streets of Sausalito or a nondescript winter forest. A magical world, far removed from ours, requires more finesse – finesse I don’t possess.

I write the way I talk, mostly. My descriptions aren’t very wordy, and they tend to focus on the things I would notice, not the things that describe a room or other setting. My main character is not going to note the colors of the lone maple leaf quivering on a branch in late fall. My characters are far more likely to focus on a single nose hair growing out of the antagonist’s left nostril, all the while wondering if it’s an anomaly or if he recently trimmed up there and missed one.

And yeah, she’ll probably miss his evil monologue while she’s meditating on this.

Honest answer, then. Since the day Princess Amberlyn decided to inform her audience of her saddle sores and described the road grit wedged inside her laced-up bodice, I started writing in my own voice. For better or worse, I’m stuck with it.

Rachel is the author of the urban fantasy Monster Haven series from Carina Press. She believes in magic, the power of love, good cheese, lucky socks, and putting things off until stress gets them done faster at the last minute. Her home is Disneyland, despite her current location in Kansas.

1 Comment

  • Jason Arnett says:

    Well said. I think we’ve all done this, though it’s hard to recognize. We’re seeing that in the other essays this week, for sure.

    Kudos for the revealing look into your voice.

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