Saturday, 16 July 2016

Blog survey for writers: 4. Your first story

4. Tell us about one of your first stories/characters!

I don't remember what my first story ever was. Actually, I'm not even sure what counts as a first, and I have trouble deciding between the few that could be ”one of the first”, so I will write about the first ”novel” that I finished, since this question seems vague enough. I've never let anyone read it, and I'm not planning to, but it might be pretty hilarious to analyze now.

It's called Linnea of Senjova and it's a ballet story. It totally rips off from Ballet for Drina by Jean Estoril (=Mabel Esther Allan). Those were my favourite ballet books when I was a pre-teen (kind of still are) and I must have read them all five times before elementary school ended. Since then, I have started many ballet stories, at some point I probably wrote about nothing else, but Linnea was the first long one I finished, at the end of middle school.

It's probably a pretty boring story for anyone who is not interested in ballet. I fell in love with ballet when I was, like, five, and never fell out. So the story reads like that. You know, sometimes you come across stories that can make a boring subject really relatable, it seems like it's written for anyone, even though it's about an obsession the characters have that the reader might not. This is not that kind of story. It's just something that I, as a Betty Bunhead, wrote for myself.

Here's Linnea, with the silly notes I always made for every character at the age I wrote this...

So um... Linnea is the stereotypical protagonist. The young girl who suffers from incurable ballet fever, shows high reluctance to do anything that doesn't involve ballet, and is ridiculously career oriented at age eleven. That's probably the most ridiculous thing about this story. Completely unrealistic number of eleven-year-olds who know they want nothing more than to be a dancer, and are so willing to take risks and make sacrifices for it. Eh... actually the characters are way too mature for their age in many other ways too. I probably should've at least made them middle schoolers but hey I blame Drina (who's story starts when she's ten). :D

So it's a story about a bunch of bunheads. Friends, bullies, rivals. The uphill battle of trying to fit ballet together with school, relationships and free time. The joy and pain of knowing what you want at a young age. The everyday classes, the performances, auditions.

Linnea's friend Rosa.

Of course, Linnea is one of the most talented dancers in her age group and on top of that she has The Something no one can quite explain (=Protagonist Powers) but what always makes her stand out from the rest. Basically it's the perfect combination of everything from technique to charisma. It's what everyone is always looking for in ballet stories, so of course I had to write about that ideal. Plus I didn't want to write about a relatable character. I didn't want to write about someone who had weak ankles, stiff heels, and too long toes. I wanted to write about someone inspiring, and yes, at that age, it was someone ideal. Not a Mary Sue exactly, but someone who could actually meet the inhuman requirements to become a ballet dancer. I guess this is the aspect that makes Linnea the most like Drina.

Other than that, I mostly ripped off the atmosphere from Drina, (It's clearly more British than Finnish, for example...) not so much the plot. It's kind of surprizing to me now, but Linnea's story is way less sensationalistic. There are no dead parents who were secret ballet celebrities without their off-spring knowing about it. No one has to do ballet in secret from their parents. No one is a favourite to some celebrity. No one does anything ”bigger” than getting in to a good ballet school. The biggest injuries are twisted ankles. The biggest show case is a small folk festival in Estonia. What causes the most drama is that Linnea and her ”Draco Malfoy” are in the same class at school.

Linnea's rival Netta.

The story does include a huge number of genre clichés, though, and some of them multiple times, such as:
  • Someone getting injured right before a show
  • Accidentally running into your celebrity hero during a weak moment and getting inspired
  • The bully is the biggest challenger of the main character
  • The bully has an untalented minion who only follows the bully for status
  • The main character having to choose between two talents while the choice is freakishly obvious all the time
  • Deliberately being late in order to give your role to a hardworking understudy
  • The main character's family situation getting between them and their dream
  • The Important People accidentally seeing the main character at the right moment
  • The big slump after the perfect performance since ”nothing can ever be as perfect”
  • The best friend is ultimately the second best

The story is pretty down to earth with those clichés too... but they are there.

Even though this story is pretty horrible, it's kind of nice to see I wasn't such a different kind of writer back then. Just a lot worse. It's still about the same things I like to write about now. It's about everyday life, relationships, and personal growth. I like to find the ”magic” in the ordinary, wander in the web of relationships, and go through the highs and lows with a character trying to achive their dream.

Some of my favourite things to write in Linnea were:

  • Classroom scenes. Probably the least interesting for anyone who's not into ballet but I really liked to spent time describing the mundane barre work and just how everyone is doing in class in general. Describing it from the point of view of different characters is fun, I liked to switch between the students and the teachers.
  • The performances. I'm a sucker for ”stage magic”. I don't know if I could describe it at all, but it's always there. Everything is just a little bit more magical on stage, or behind the stage, in the middle of the costumes, the stage smoke, the dark corners, and storages...
  • When something clicks in a character's brain and their dancing is taken to a new level, or they solve a major problem in one area of dancing.
  • Psychological loops. I'm not sure why they are so satisfying to write. Maybe because the answer to them is always so simple, and when the character gets out of the loop, it's like enlightenment to them? Like when Linnea thought she was falling behind because everything felt so hard, but the truth was her physical awareness had become more detailed and everyone else thought she was improving.
  • Linnea skating with her neighbour Kim (also a ballet dancer) and how they developed their own unorthodox ice ballet for fun. (Neither had ever really taken skating lessons.) And how skating together all their chilhood helped them when they started doing pas de deux in ballet class.
  • Whenever Linnea went to a quiet place with no one around, like a forest, and started dancing just for herself.
  • When Linnea and her friend Rosa practiced together in Rosa's little ”studio” and got lost into coreographing with classic dance music.

Things I'm not proud of:

  • Linnea being so morally superior to her bully, Netta. She's too proud to show anger in front of Netta, and she feels like she's winning if she treats Netta well, when Netta treats her badly, but I haven't written that clearly enough. It just reads like Linnea is always right.
  • Kim being so mature about his crush on Linnea. I mean he's barely 13 at the time, but he never blushes in front of her, never acts weird, he seems to be at complete peace about keeping it a secret all the time. I'm not saying he can't be mature, it's just that he seems to control his feelings a bit too well. He should be allowed to be at least a little bit more awkward about it.
  • The way I erased the possibility of competition between Rosa and Linnea. They were best friends, so apparently I didn't want them to compete. It's made clear indirectly that Linnea would win in the end because Rosa isn't as artistic on stage, but everytime there's a role they both want, or some kind of evaluation, there's an exuse why the other can't do it, or isn't at their best. Like when Linnea twisted her ankle right before they were both auditioning for a solo, and then Rosa was inspired to get it for both of them. They never succeed at each other's expence.
  • Rosa and her crush Jori. It's the weakest relationship in the story and their dating seems shallow. I probably wasn't that interested in Jori as a character, and so their relationship didn't become much more than something to give Rosa a distraction from dancing.
  • Too many lucky coincidences. For everyone. Like Kim and Linnea getting to talk to their favourite dancer just because he happened to be passing through their town, and walk by the lake they were skating at, and notice they must be dancers and drop to say hi.
  • Netta the bully never does anything selfless. I guess it's understandable since she's only shown through the eyes of Linnea, Kim and Rosa, who hate her, but even so, there should be times when they'd see Netta might not be all bad.

Okay, it was pretty interesting for me to look back at this. There's things I like under the trash and it certainly was fun to write at the time. I'd still like to write a ballet story in the same style with some significant improvements. But I guess that's not one of my priorities at the moment, so I'll see about that.

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