A while ago, I did Rachel Swirsky’s class on retelling old stories. This weekend I did Cat’s class on building characters (elementary, you might think, but still incredibly useful and well worth taking. Thanks to my Patrons who covered the cost as well!). The morning before, I started on a new story, which I’m calling “Hearts of Stone and Age” was very much a re-telling of The Little Mermaid but set in a secondary world I’m developing. Meren, the merfolk of this world (the Wasting World and the same one featured in “Pearls and Memories, Spilled and Scattered”), are wild and dangerous and very inhuman which makes it all the odder for a statue of one to sit in the harbour of a prosperous little port town.
It’s a nesting story and focuses not on the mermaid (who isn’t a princess), but on the sorceress (who in this story was the creature’s lover, not her enemy) and on her mentor who cursed the sorceress with unending youth. It’s still a story of two worlds meeting and things going wrong but
Cat asked us to do two exercises as part of the class, both of which really helped. The first was to write about the protagonist from their own perspective, who they are:
My name is Talin and I am old, I was a sorceress when the world was young and I lived in a small harbour town watching as it grew, offering my services to whomever needed it. I was cursed with immortality and, worse, unending youthfulness. It forced me to move around lest my secret be uncovered as everyone, in their heart of hearts, never wants to know death. I don’t know if my state can be stolen or another infected with it. But I also know that only when I find someone who accepts what I am and offers to take my burden from me without my asking them to do so, knowing what it means to live until the end of days immortal, can I pass from this world. And, until I fell in love, I never wanted to. The problem is my beloved is a creature of the sea; mortals and Meren, they can’t live in each other’s worlds and I don’t know if we go to the same place after we die. Meren turn to sea-foam, humans to bone and ash. So I turned my beloved into a statue, at her request, and continued to wander, seeking out the person who would release me but who would also keep the secret of what I was, only then can I return, free my beloved and we can face death together.
The second was to write about the protagonist for the point of somone who hates them, which is where the evil mentor comes in:
She was beautiful, thought that was more birth and breeding than any glamour or other woven magics. Her pretty heart reflecting in kind eyes and a desire to help, not hinder, those who came to her. She was my pupil once and I thought, perhaps, her goodness was just a front and I could seduce her into darkness. No, she was good to her sweet core and the dark deities, they cannot stomach purity. So I invoked them and blessed her with the long life of my kind but wove a curse. But, when she realised how dark my heart was and who I served, she ran, refuted me, and renounced all connection to our kind and the covenants. She went rogue and wandered and, you know what? She never stopped seeing that beauty in the world, even after civilisations had burned to ash and love, well it only made things worse.
The final one was to write about a possession that the protagonist carries with them and their relationship with it:
In the first days after the statue of the Meren holding her heart appeared in the harbour, everyone was very confused and no one knew where it came from. A week after, I took a piece of sea-smoothed glass found as we watched that last sunrise together to a local mason, asking him to please carve me a replica of the statue’s heart. By the time I returned three decades later, his main business was selling tiny stone and sea-glass statues of her. Mine, however, remained unique, no one wanted her heart, no they wanted the idiolised beauty of a carved sea-maiden. Her heart, in miniature, it has traveled years and miles in a tiny cloth pouch, kept safe deep in my pack. I take it out at night when I can’t be with her, when I’m lying in a tavern bed or camping in the wilderness. It anchors me to her even when I’m a life and a million miles from the ocean. One day I will return, let the heart return to the sea and speak the words which will free her from the stone.
The thing is, though these pieces will never make their way into the story, they did help me figure out the mechanics of the story. Oh and there’s going to be a showdown on the beach between the evil witch and the good sorceress, witnessed by an innocent bard seeking the truth to the legend of the Meren holding her heart in her hands. This is my first new story of the year and a nice take chance to try my hand at retelling one of my favourite stories.