The Birthmark that Mapped Her Future

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Em. 

She lived in a castle along with her six other brothers and sisters. Everyone got along with each other except with her because she was different. She was born with a birthmark, big and pale, that mapped itself from her neck down to her shoulder. “It’s the devil’s child,” they’d call her. “She’s been marked by the devil!” 

The only time they ever played with her was at Em’s expense. They would lunge at her and reel back just as fast, to see who got closest without touching her. Once, Em tried to grab them back, but when she did, they screamed and stared at her as if she was a monster. She never played with them again and avoided them altogether. Many years went by and her oldest brother was eighteen and he was sent off to another kingdom. “He’s such a good son,” her parents would say. “He’ll do great things for the country.” Em didn’t know there were other countries in the world and listened intently whenever she could. As long as she was quiet, and stayed out of their way, she could listen for as long as she liked because her parents didn’t care for her anyway.

Then there was her fifth sibling, who was married to a prince at sixteen and she was sent off to live in his castle. Em wondered if she’d be married off too someday… And so, one after the other, her siblings left the castle until she was the only one left. She thought, maybe now mum and dad will pay attention to me, sense I’m all they got? She tried getting their attention by singing and playing the piano but they would just send one of the maids and drag her away. “They are very busy,” the maid would say.

Soon, Em stopped trying to make them notice her and stayed in her room, where everyone preferred her anyway. All day she’d read or sing or play the piano. Other days she’d just sit by the window and look as the world moved on without her, dreaming of being sent away one day. The only time she ever left her room was when everyone was asleep and she had the whole castle to herself. Unfortunately, the castle was very dark at night and she would jump at every suspicious sound, or shadow. She was especially frightened near the kitchen where she heard strange moans at night. She asked her father for a lantern but he wouldn’t give it to her. “What would you need a lantern for anyway? He asked. But Em wouldn’t say, fearing he’d lock her up if he knew what she was up to. Then one night, she saw something glowing in the dark. It was a lit lantern that was resting outside the kitchen door. Pleased with her find, she snatched it and ran back to her room, never considering it might belong to somebody esle. The next morning, two servants were fired and the noise from the kitchen went away. 

Many years later (when she was twelve) after coming home from one of her nightly adventures, there was an old lady waiting in her room. Em almost dropped the lantern because she thought it was some sort of goblin that had followed her. But as the creature turned, Em could see it was a person smiling. Her name was Emma, which was funny because that’s what Em always thought her own name would be if her parents had bothered finishing it. 

As it turned out, Emma was very kind and she’d stay with Em all day long telling stories or brushing her hair. “I’m so glad you are here,” Em said. “I don’t ever have to leave my room and feel lonely again.” 

“Oh? Why wouldn’t you want to leave? The night is yours, nobody is gonna hurt you.”

Em scratched her neck. “I don’t really like the dark,” she said.

Emma put down the brush and said. “Have you ever heard about Vampires?”

Em shook her head. 

“They are tall and handsome creatures of the night and they got their eyes on you. They’ll come for you, one day, when you are ready.”

Em jittered out of her chair. “Me? Why?!”

Emma caressed Em’s neck which didn’t help to sooth her because nobody had dared touch her there before. “They’ll protect you because they know you’ll do great things. That’s why everyone is afraid of you,” she said.

Em thought about it. “Everyone? Even monsters?”

Emma smiled. “Even monsters.”

“But then… Why aren’t you afraid of me?”

The old woman quirked her mouth. “I’m too old to be scared of death.” 

When Em was left alone, she thought about what had been said. If everyone was afraid of her she could do whatever she wanted! That very same night she went without her lantern. She knew the castle by heart and at first, she was scared without it but as her eyes got used to the darkness she became more confident. She even went to the tower at the abandoned part of the castle, where the Wraith is said to wander up and down the stairs. And lo and behold, she came back without being hurt! Ever since then, the night became hers and she would sometimes frighten others that walked the dark. Sometimes she would even eves-drop on her father’s meetings which she wasn’t supposed to hear: apparently, things weren’t going well for her oldest brother in the other kingdom and rumour had it he’d been captured and locked in a prison somewhere. For some reason, this amused Em, thinking of her siblings being locked away in a dark cell with nobody to talk to and she secretly wished all her siblings shared the same fate. 

Two years went by and she was fourteen. She was looking out the window when a mysterious carriage drove up to the door. Excited, she snuck downstairs to have a listen. It was an old man in his 40s that came through the door. He had a large beard and a dreary look about him. Her father frowned as he stepped inside and didn’t seem too pleased to see him. They went into the parlour where her father always had his secret meetings. Em climbed stealthily down the stairs, relying on the dark to hide her, but then the stranger suddenly turned and stared straight at her. Her heart froze and she shot back. He couldn’t have seen her in the dark, could he? She went back to have a look but they were gone. Em was too nervous to go closer and it didn’t feel safe sneaking into her father’s meeting. She decided to go back to bed where she lay awake, wondering who the stranger was and what he wanted.

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What is essential to the plot?

”A story is based on the merit on how much is removed.” I never understood this quote until I had to do it.

I recently had to remove a lot from a chapter because it was boring and irrelevant, though there were bits and pieces that I adored, and tried very hard to incorporate, it never fit in anywhere, as if it lost its place.

I don’t know if there’s any meaning to losing text like this or if it’s just a necessary step in my process to get to the good part.

Of course, some things are removed on purpose; backstories, for instance, rarely fit into the narrative but is essential nonetheless. The reader doesn’t need to know the backstory (not always) but the writer absolutely have to.

The more you decide not to include in the final product the more depth a story has and the more implicit things become which the writer can build upon.

At least, that is what I like to believe, that the many hours I spent on a segment is important even though it’s not included and somehow enriches the story instead if being relegated to the void where it came from.

Why is it so hard?

Getting the paragraphs the way I want it is sometimes more work than actually writing the story! Why?! It’s slow and tedious with lots of rewriting.

It’s painful is what it is. It’s like I’m squeezing out the last drops from a yogurt or grinding out the last of the paste in my toothpaste before I throw it out and buy a new one, or in this case, start another story.

I cannot settle with just being okay because I know I can make it good. But listening to my gut gets harder the more I put on paper. It’s like I’m putting a web on the story that isn’t supposed to be there… Perhaps the pain is a sign that I’m doing it wrong or the pain is a sign that I’m on the right track? Nothing that matters is easy, after all. But I never imagined it would be so much work…

I genuinely wanna hear your thoughts on this, even if you are a plotter.

Confront your demons

Are there dangers in writing too simply?

Whenever I approach a story, I build it up as I go, meaning, it’s very basic and I skip a lot of steps in the process. For instance, I didn’t develop the scene when the character had to battle between doing what he wants and what is right; instead I made the choice for him and moved on. 

Basically, I skip a lot of essential scenes that might change the story later. I only do them if I absolutely have to, which is often very late in the process… 

I can never understand how most writers are able to write so much. Their concern is having to scale down while mine is scaling up! This leads to a lot of rewrites, naturally, because eventually I’m forced to confront these events and, inexplicably, the event didn’t turn out as I imagined it to be.

It sounds ludicrous because am I not the one making up the story to begin with? How much control do the characters have?

It’s almost impossible to make the necessary changes so late in the process because I’ve grown accustomed to my ideas, they anchor me in the sea of words that is a novel. I’m a slow learner but I cannot escape this fundamental flaw in my writing. I’ve jumped stories so many times because I was unable to understand my problem and in doing so never finishing anything. 

Reading books

There’s a general consensus that reading is good for you. That reading is boring is also a common held belief. Very contradicting if you think about it, but I guess books are like vegetables, you gotta eat ’em.

Schools doesn’t help literatures case. Forcing you to read a book you don’t like is never fun. But I can’t really hold this against schools because how else do you make children read when there are more readily available options? Parents have the ultimate responsibility, but I digress.

As an adult, there’s a point of pride having read a certain amount of books each year. That you need to read them whether you find them boring or no. I know I’ve fallen into this trap. It’s a task to be completed rather than something to be enjoyed. But does it have to be?  Lately, I never slug my way through books if it lost my interest. I skim through it, find the keynotes and sometimes the story draws me back again…

Like any writer, I’m easily bored and I have around five books that I read at the same time. Jumping between them whatever flights my fancy. Sometimes I find stories extremely predictable and sometimes still, my predictions are more entertaining than how it turned out! But I guess that’s the sickness of the writer.

I can do better.

In any case; you have no obligation to finish a story properly if it has lost your interest. You don’t get smarter by reading fiction, you really don’t. Some fictions can be very profound, but for those where reading is a chore, they never got anything out of the story anyhow.

Fairbanks Island – Day 19 (End)

I really like this ending. I hope it brings a lot of questions while still being a satisfying enough to not feel cheated. I do sprinkle some of the answers across the story, after all. My goal is to not be explicit and I want the reader to imagine themselves some of the answers because I adore mystery and I want the story to linger with them for a while. But the story is far from done, there are characters that aren’t fully explored (or explored at all) and you never know if they will change the ending in some way or another. I’m excited to see how this turns out!

Epilogue

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Fairbanks Island – Day 18

I’m not sure how long this story is going to be. There are so many characters that I haven’t fully explore that the story might take a completely different turn in the end, which is always exciting. There is much more scenery and details I could add as well.

30 000 words for a draft doesn’t make a long story, but I don’t mind, I have so many ideas that creating several shorter ones is a blessing. I never cared for Epic tales, it really has to be something special for me to put time into something like that.

Chapter 16

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Fairbanks Island – Day 17

This is such an odd story… I first got the idea when I played a game called, Oxenfree. It’s about a group of teenagers encountering supernatural events on an abandoned island, or at least it was abandoned when they got there… I guess that sparked my imagination.

Chapter 15

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Fairbanks Island – Day 16

The momentum is fading, I can feel it. Before I could write 2000 – 2500 words a day but now I’m barely hitting a 1000. The story is coming to a close and I have a pretty good idea how it will turn out. Let’s see if I am right!

Chapter 14

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Fairbanks Island – Day 15

Now I think I understand what Hemingway meant when he said to never empty your well of writing. (“I had learned already to never empty my well of writing“) We all have our limits and stopping before hitting that limit is immensely gratifying because the longer you write the bigger is the chance that you’ll run into a problem. Basically you stop while staying ahead, stop while you are number one. Another way of putting it, is to stop writing while knowing what you should be writing the next day, you carry the momentum.

Chapter 13

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