I am titling this post as Disrupting Fantasy – Part 1 because I will no doubt have more to say on the subject.

But for this blog, let’s start with stale beginnings.

I just got back from a local writer’s club meet & greet. The small event at a local library had about 30 participants. One, actually, was a 15-year-old girl who had amazing talent as a poet. I will try to get her name and add it to the end of this post later.

However, one well-experienced lady stepped up to share some short (really short) stories. Now, personally, I think she should stay with what she claimed was her forte, modern anecdotes that are best compiled into the type of book you keep in the commode to entertain yourself. Her work wasn’t bad. It’s fine for a quick laugh. However, the first story she shared was a “romance”, which could just as easily have slipped into Fantasy.

And it began oh, so typically.

The young maiden is standing at the short stone wall of her seaside cottage, her silken hair waving in the breeze. A handsome man approaches in a jerkin and boots. He asks the maiden to marry him, and she says, “No.” The man asks why, and (are you waiting for it?) the maiden tells him that she is waiting for her love, who has been gone at sea for seven long years.

The man then goes for the Q & A round. “But what if your love is lost at sea?” “But what if your love has become a pirate?” “But what if your love has found another girl?”

The maiden responds as anyone would expect. “Then I will forever mourn him.” “Then I will lock my heart up and remember the good man he was.” “Then I will bless them both and hope they have a long life.” (I wouldn’t wish them that).

Does anyone see where this story is going, because I knew it from the moment the guy showed up.

Beaming with pride over the maiden’s answers, the handsome man reveals himself as her one true love who set sail seven years ago (No! Really? I’m so very surprised). And I assume they live happily ever after.

Why do stories like this always begin this way? I can think of so many better ways to go, but then I love Fantasy. I don’t “dabble” in it. I live and breathe it, and as such I just can’t stand it when someone – who clearly has a talent for modern anecdotes – takes a superficial step into my world.

Here’s one of my favorite Shakespearean sonnets (#130). The main character is a man in love with the ugliest girl in town.

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
     And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
     As any she belied with false compare.

In the story above, why does the maiden have to be beautiful? Why does her hair have to be silky? I don’t know about you, but living in a cottage by the sea weathers the face, skin and hair. Why couldn’t she show some age? And how old was she when her love went to sea? 10? 12? I mean, if she’s a beautiful young maiden and he’s been gone for seven years… Doesn’t anyone do the math?

Next, why does the young man have to be the lover? Maybe he could be the lover’s brother come to protect the woman his sibling cherished? Why couldn’t he be a cabin boy whom the lover charged with fulfilling his wish to see the maiden again? And for that matter, why is the man handsome? Seriously, have you ever worked a tall ship? It’s not a pretty man’s profession. The man could have been scarred. He could have lost a limb.

My point is that damaged characters are far more interesting that fresh, young characters. Damaged characters have the wisdom of life behind them. They are no longer sweet and innocent. They’ve got life experience.

I would have written this story with the maiden a woman in her late 20’s. I would have had her already gotten married out of necessity – I mean, what’s her income status? I would have had her always carry the memory of her love with her, and I would have had her husband die, leaving her with a child or two. I would have had the man match her age. He would be worn by the sea, but perhaps he struck it rich and first offered to marry the girl because he knows she needs the money. This would cause her conflict, and conflict rules! Then, she notices something familiar, (writers usually go for the eyes, but it could be a childhood scar or something) and he reveals himself.

Yes, seven years have passed. Yes, they both lived their lives during this time, and yes they have the physical and emotional wounds to show for it, but they still get together in the end. Even though her looks have faded a bit, and he likely has arthritis.

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