Unlocking My Protagonist and My Princess

Creative freedom...inspired by Boston
Creative freedom…inspired by Boston

I’m currently reading The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant. It’s the tale of a young woman who asks her grandmother about how she became the woman she is today. I’m not sure that I like the writing style, but I’m enjoying the narrative, so I’ll persist. The idea of writing style failing to complement the narrative, got me thinking of the first and only tale I’ve written. With exception to a primary school creative writing competition, I’ve written just one written creative story when I was 11 years old. I visualise creativity or a creative person to be colourful, bubbly and energetic – the “jazz hands” of personal expression. Needless to say, I don’t believe creativity is a personal strength which is why I haven’t explored creative writing since.

My one creative story is called The Silver Key. It’s a tale set in 1930s Egypt of two 13-year-old girls forged in friendship, a love of poetry and romantic novels, aristocratic upbringings, exotic adventure and ancient legends. Despite its shortcomings, I love it. It was pragmatically written, but historical inaccuracies weave through the sometimes outlandishly out-of-context prose. I still have the original transcript, which was hand written on yellow lined paper. It’s one of my most treasured possessions.

I wrote my tale in the first person of my protagonist named Sarah. She is friends with Dianna, both of whom are from England. As an 11-year-old during the 1998 Christmas holidays, I can only imagine the name was inspired by the then recently late Princess Diana. Of course, I had to be different so my Dianna got two n’s. Sarah had long red hair (of course!), she was introverted and wise; Dianna had dark ringlets, she was brazen and foolish. Dianna moved to Egypt to be with her aunt following the death of her parents, so they maintained their friendship through a series of letters. Soon after her arrival, Dianna wrote to Sarah about what she learned of the legend of the silver key. The missing artifact opens the tomb of the most powerful and cursed pharaoh that ever lived.

Sarah travels to Egypt in the hopes of solving the mystery of the silver key with her best friend. Life in the 1930s meant that Sarah traveled by ship (with her mother of course), or at least that’s what I thought people did in the 1930s. But I probably just watched 1997’s Titanic, which would also explain the scrumptiously velvet (but 20 years too soon) clothing I envisioned my characters in. At the time I also had an obsession with ancient Egypt, which sadly didn’t continue as my passion shifted to modern history as I progressed through school. I remember sitting on the floor of my Uncle Joe and Aunty Kim’s library, cutting out pictures from travel magazines of the Great Pyramids and the Sahara. I imagined the girls running through spice bazaars and glittering sand dunes in their adventure to find the silver key. It’s an adventure which led to Dianna’s untimely demise. The tale concludes with the elderly Sarah living in Melbourne, reflecting on the loss of her girlhood friend.

The Silver Key is unashamedly young adult fiction (YA) – a literary genre that is not critically favoured, and it’s typically written by women for young girls. Ironically, of the six subjects I’ve completed so far in my journalism course, YA was the subject I struggled with most – in my defence the course focused on literary theories which were new concepts to me. The rules of YA suggest that the protagonist should be written in the first person – think the series of Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, Divergent, and The Hunger Games, and the stand alone The Book Thief. Rules are made for a reason, but they are also made to be broken.

In 2011, I tried in vain to re-imagine the story as a either a novella or a novel, by researching the historical references, and considering a swap to a third person narrative. I wasn’t ready to revisit it then, and it showed because I didn’t progress far. I tried too hard to honour the original narrative which restricted me from taking it where it needed to go.

I graduate from my journalism course in October this year. I feel like this is the perfect time to take on this project again. Despite knowing what I know about YA fiction, I still want to explore the option of shifting the narrative to the third person, therefore shifting my writing style. I like the idea of breaking the rules, but I like the idea of being Sarah’s guardian, advocate and challenger even more. I think I’ll be able to add more depth to her in the third, as opposed to trapping her into my projection and perception of myself in the first. Despite having big, creative decisions to make, I’m excited to think of the possibilities of her back story and character development. I’m especially curious to learn how she will project herself in her friendship with Dianna as well as how she will perceive herself in the friendship. I’m yet to consider whether the story will still conclude with Sarah as an elderly Melburnian. But regardless of her age and locale, I can’t wait to find out who she becomes.

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