Characters, On Writing

The Tale of a Story Told (Part One)

In which Ness takes a past tale and tells its story.

Feel up to a story of improvement and facial seizures? Grab a cup of tea (or a beverage of your choice) and settle in as I tell you the tale of a young girl who had no idea that a single paragraph shouldn’t cover an entire A4 sheet of paper …

Oh Robin!

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I was seized by a desire to write a story based around my childhood hero – Robin Hood.

So I began one.

It was appalling.

The main character was, well, she was – and here I must put it quite frankly – a bit of a brat; a pallid shadow of the Maid Marian of Legend. Of course I didn’t intend to write her as such – I was writing a story and accidentally conjured up a proud and arrogant girl with my words.

These things do happen, you know.

The plot itself was rather, well, it had wonderful coincidences. Robin Hood – whose eyes were perpetually twinkling – was easily rescued from the dungeon. It was a strong alcoholic liquid that helped him, you see; administered to the guards, constantly diluted yet always very potent, it was originally owned by our heroine. Why she possessed such a liquid in the first place, I never explained.

Another marvelous coincidence was when poor Little John was imprisoned in the dungeon. He was soon to die. Hanging, I believe. But no fear! Lady Mary Adeney was informed by her beloved maid that there was a secret tunnel:

“It leads to the dungeon, the deepest one at that, no one knows of this tunnel for Sir Guy killed the original owner off it…..and with him, the secret tunnel.”

[How one kills off a secret tunnel is not explained].

By amazing chance, Little John is rescued. By even more amazing chance, Little John – the biggest, tallest and strongest ironically named outlaw about – fits through the tunnel opening. Which is two foot wide.

Lady Mary Adeney – after a showdown with the Sheriff (the dialogue of which contained a perfect storm of exclamation marks) – decided to become a commoner, shunning both the life of a noblewoman and living with the outlaws in Sherwood Forest.

“Minstrel’s songs and heroic tales were one thing, but how could I know what his band were like?”

[Quite right, m’dear. They might be heavy metal or – even worse! – a folk band]

A quick Bible verse was inserted as she released her horse (Bravebrow was his name, if you are wondering) and left her companions in a not at all melodramatic way.  Off to the Fletcher’s in Nottingham she was going, with a new name …

[Drum roll please]

Maid Marian!

… and then the plot dribbled off like water in a cracked jug. Like my spirit when faced with a pile of procrastinated work. Like my strength when accosted with a much too long walk in England’s countryside. (Did you know, I once accidentally stepped on a dead sheep? It was rather an experience). Like- well, I’m sure you understand.

In my story folder that story stayed – gathering metaphorical dust between ‘A Father Tells’ (a father telling a story about his smuggler days. It won me a price for the most gore. I was eight) and ‘Mountain Air’ (in which the heroine was awesome, witty and in no way shape or form resembled me. Cough).

But then I returned to it. I blame Robin Hood and my love for his tales.

Lady Mary was obviously spoiled. Hmm … how to rescue her? A light bulb dawned in my fogged brain. It consisted of two words: character development.

What if she … grew? I could keep the beginning of her story and skip forward two years and show how her character grew.

What an excellent idea!

Yes.

Well, the thing is … I overdid it.

She was suddenly perfect. She was mature. She was delicate and sweet. She could show remorse with the best of ‘em. She could swoon like a pro, cry (but delicately) and was an all-round paragon of maddening perfection.

It was going off to Bristol to be a maid, you see. That was the making of her; the Forming of the Paragon. (Note to self: go to Bristol as a maid, will come back perfect. Probably).

Again the story trailed off, gathering dust particles as I turned away to different tales, different projects.

But then I came back, I still loved Robin Hood and this story I had worked on. I didn’t much like it but it was mine and I had worked on it on and off for more than a couple of years.

Another light bulb – instead of skipping two years I could actually write the transition from spoiled to perfection more, well, human. I gave myself permission to write (on purpose, this time) a thoroughly unlikable character.

Everyone should give themselves permission to write thoroughly unlikable main characters at one time or another.

This Tale of a Tale continues later, in Part Two. Naturally.

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