The word “journey” is used a lot when it comes to writing and publishing. It can describe the process of turning an idea into a completed manuscript or a Word document into a hardcover book, or even the metamorphosis of a writer, after years of being rejected, into a fully-fledged published author.
But “journey” can also describe something that’s much more personal: the business of getting to know yourself better through your writing.
I’ve been scribbling for as long as I can remember. I have a box filled to the brim with diaries and journals of all shapes and sizes, in which I documented my dreams and my everyday life for more than 20 years. Rereading them has been incredibly cringeworthy (there is always groaning and eye-covering involved!), yet rewarding because I can so clearly see the person I was at each stage of my life.
I know that girl intimately because, well, I *am* her . . . but the diaries give me a snapshot of whatever I cared about at the time, whatever I felt was important, and how I reacted to different events in my life (because let’s face it, 90% of my journals involved venting about two-faced friends, an unfair teacher, or my parents forcing me to do math workbooks all summer long because of my B+ in calculus).
I think of the manuscripts I write in much the same way.
Rereading my old stories gives me a snapshot of who I was and what was important to me at the time I wrote those books. What I find really interesting is that certain elements linger on and appear in some way, shape, or form in literally every single manuscript. And this happens without me planning it!
Here are a few examples of things that constantly appear in my work:
- Girls and women struggling for agency. There is always a character who is fighting to be independent and have control over her own life. I didn’t plan for this to happen, but I am not surprised one bit, since I was almost pushed into medical school against my will.
- Controlling, emotionally distant or verbally abusive parents. My stories are most definitely an outlet for venting the experiences of my childhood. Even when I try to avoid this trope, it still pops up in the form of a domineering teacher or bossy relative.
- Girls and women with astronomical ambitions. I say I’m a Hufflepuff, and so do literally all of the quizzes I’ve taken, yet three of the last four characters I’ve written are cunning, determined, and desperate to be the best at what they do. *thinking face emoji*
- The feeling of not being loved or important enough. This was a common theme in my journals, and it was interesting to recognize it in all of my books, too. There is always a character who shares my sadness and fear of never being anyone’s favorite, of always being the backup and the least loved.
- A voice only the main character can hear. This doesn’t show up in every book, but it has appeared enough that I’m wondering if my wish for an invisible friend never really went away. This trope appears in FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS, two other early manuscripts, and the Phantom book I wrote in 2012.
- Fairy tales or a fairy tale feel. I have certain aesthetics I am attracted to when creating a new world. I love the Gothic look and feel of Victorian London, I’m drawn to deep dark forests full of secrets, and I adore the feel of Guillermo del Toro’s dark fairy tales. It’s no surprise to me that many of my books have a whimsical, melancholy, and fantastical theme.
- Prickly female main characters. KINGDOM OF THE BLAZING PHOENIX was the first time I ever wrote a main character who was more like me: quick to love, naive, and loyal. Most of the other ladies I write are sharp, sassy, and what some like to call “unlikable,” and I have always wanted to be more like them!
Writing, to me, is such a healing and therapeutic outlet because even as I’m weaving stories, my subconscious is unpacking past experiences and my changing viewpoint of the world as I get older and grow as a writer.
Think back to some of your own stories. What are common tropes, elements, and themes that seem to appear over and over, even if you don’t plan for them to?
Feel free to share in the comments if you’re comfortable!