Becoming a World Builder

It’s day 6 of writing my way through May! Still with me? I’ve got a long one for you today, but I think you’ll like it. First…

Super short announcement: I just released the Magical 10 Minute Guide to Improving Your Writing Style. There is a catch. You have to sign up for my email list, which means you’ll hear from me pretty much daily. You see… I’m a writing coach and editor, and I want to share my writing magic with you!

Now onto the blog! Enjoy…

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My novel is about a witch who has lived six other lifetimes. She passes her knowledge and experience down through her Grimoire, which happens to be a brown tabby cat. One thing I love about having this character is that she is reborn, which means I can have a lot of fun developing past and future lives. Last night, I decided to write a little about one of her future lives (future in relation to my current novel).

Before I share this little piece of writing with you, I want to talk about my writing journey for Mona and the Grimoire (the place-holder title of my novel… possibly the real title?). To do that, I have to jump back a few years and tell you about my time studying creative writing and literature in college.

I went to the University of Arkansas. Let me tell you. The UARK English department is AMAZING. As much as debt makes my soul cringe, I am so thankful for each and every professor I had the honor of studying under. They completely changed my reading and writing life. Mostly for the better.

But…

The creative writing courses I took didn’t exactly embrace genre fiction. They didn’t exactly push me outside of my comfort zone either. These classes very much followed that stuffy advice: write what you know. At least, I find it to be stuffy.

When I started writing as a preteen, I developed entire worlds for my characters to explore and live in. I drew maps, thought of strange creatures, charted family trees, and created magic systems. My young writing self was definitely less interested in developing culture and politics for my worlds than I am now. But I’ll forgive myself for that.

In many ways, the creative writing classes I took created some tough blocks for me. I subconsciously believed that being a “serious” writer meant writing “serious” literature. To tip the scales in my favor, I leaned on magical realism after I graduated. I treated it like salt–just a pinch!

Fast forward through many drafts and failed attempts…

One evening a couple months ago, I sat down and expressed all these things to my amazing husband (who occasionally writes on Lit Bear). Disclaimer: he almost always reads nonfiction, and he ALWAYS writes nonfiction. No offense to my sweetheart but I wasn’t exactly counting on him for earth shattering advice on fiction writing. Still, as I talked to him, his face lit up.

“You’re a world builder!” he said to me.

Just hearing that made my heart flutter. My favorite compliments are pretty strange, okay? I’m a creative. What’s your excuse?

Anyway… in that moment, I felt some of those tightly held subconscious beliefs about writing slip away. We sat around for a couple hours delving into the world of Mona–the character I have been wanting to write about so badly. This single conversation helped open me up as a creative writer again.

I started outlining belief systems, spells, politics, culture, geography, you name it. I have scribbled notes all over my sketchbook. The joy of writing was restored! (Holy crap. It only took five years. Ouch.)

My writing process requires more than just writing my novel because I’m developing a whole world for that novel to exist in. So it requires a lot of behind the scenes thought. That’s part of the fun for me. I get to step away from the manuscript at times just to develop specific aspects of my world. Because if I tried to flesh out the entire world for you (my wonderful reader) all at once, your head would explode… or you’d fall asleep. Either way, it just… wouldn’t work.

That’s why I take the time to do short snippets like the one I’m about to share with you. I jumped ahead in the timeline to think about what one of Mona’s future lives might look like. The world isn’t too different from our own. I like a sense of familiarity. In this short little bit, it might seem down to earth… but then I introduce just a little bit of that magic–just a pinch of salt–to help you take that first step into another world.

That night, Sage took the keys. She lifted up the key ring so slowly that she had plenty of time to think. If he heard her, he would wake up and stumble into the dark kitchen to grunt at her. Get back to bed.

Loui Hector, her father, drove an old clunker of a truck. Loud enough to wake up the neighbors. Even if she could pick up the keys and slip outside without a sound, the engine would roar to life. Then, he would.

She wrapped her hand tight around the keys, pressing the metal teeth into her fingers. She had to cross the carpeted living room. Loui slept in the armchair, snoring and drooling like a shadow monster. She pressed one foot into the carpet and held her breath.

Nothing.

One step at a time, she crept across. The carpet was bright yellow like sunflowers. She could not imagine more hideous carpet. Perhaps she wouldn’t have to ever again.

She edged around the chair and the lamp, then behind the sofa. She held her breath all the way across the living room. She lifted her hand toward the doorknob. But for some reason, Loui moved.

Her heart raced. In one swift movement, she flung herself behind the sofa.

A great sigh and the snoring stopped. Was he awake? Or had he just shifted in his sleep? She waited. Time stretched on. When the television did not turn on, she guessed he still slept. She peered over the sofa.

Asleep.

Still crouched down, she slipped back to the door. Centimeter by centimeter she turned the knob until at last she pulled back, letting a cool gust of wind sweep across her face. It felt refreshing next to the stuffy old house.

As she closed the door behind her, she thought about the truck and squeezed the keys. Why did it have to be so loud?

She made every movement in anticipation of the mechanical crescendo. She would not risk making any sounds until that moment. That moment would have to be enough to put the truck in reverse.

She drew in her breath as she slid the key into the ignition. For a long time, she sat there. Should she have left a note? How could she explain?

No, she told herself. It’s better just to go.

She turned the key. The deafening roar pounded through her. Even as she backed out of the driveway, she kept her eyes on the door. Maybe Loui wouldn’t wake up. Maybe he would sleep through the night only to find the empty driveway and then find her empty room.

He wouldn’t think she took the truck at first. She talked back sometimes, but she was a teenager. That was normal enough. Stealing her dad’s truck made her a delinquent.

As she shifted into gear and pressed on the gas pedal, she saw the door swing open. Loui didn’t have his glasses on, and he squinted at Sage as if trying to make sense of a dream. He didn’t look angry at all. Just confused.

She looked away quickly and sped off down the street. Shaking, she rolled down the window to let in the cool night air. The sound of frogs and the smell of rain drifted past. She tried to steady her breath.

Then, as if waking from a dream herself, she shook her head and reached behind her to slide open the back window. A brown tabby slid into the cab and settled on the passenger seat.

“Are you okay?” asked the cat.

“Yeah.” She slid the back window shut. “Just… not sure about this.”

The cat, she swore, smiled. “It’s tradition,” it said.

“Stealing trucks?”

“No. Leaving. You are not truly theirs or anyone’s. You are quite ancient.”

She glanced down at the cat. “I’m fifteen.”

It laughed, a strange raspy sound. “Perhaps you are.”

Arguing with a cat felt ridiculous enough. She sighed. When she found the cat, it looked at her with more understanding and knowledge than she could fathom in a creature. It also appeared relieved to see her. Then, it spoke.

“I finally found you.”

She should have questioned her sanity, been surprised, or both. But instead, she crouched down before the cat and asked, “Who are you?”

“Your Grimoire,” it said patiently.

They were in the woods behind her house. She often walked along the game trails there, down to the creek at the bottom of the hill. That time, the tabby slipped from some shadowy place and stood in her path.

“You’re a cat,” she said. “Is that supposed to be your name?”

“You usually just call me Grim.”

©2018, Sarah Day. For permissions contact: bookwitchedits@gmail.com.

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