Commentary on Enter the Woods

Caution: contains spoilers! If you haven't read the full story, read no further on this chapter!

I thought you guys might enjoy a few insights into the thoughts that went into making this story what it is!
-SamoaPhoenix

Origins: The seed of this story really began with an idea of having nine children at once and live, a feat which even modern medicine has yet to achieve. So I figured, why not do it by magic? Thus I set the scene in an arbitrary fantasy kingdom and gave the monarchs the perpetual problem that has plagued so many royal dynasties through the centuries: no children to inherit the throne. Of course they would seek magical aid…and you see where the fairy godmother and her potion come in. The surprise is the solution of ending up with too many children (nine girls) instead of none at all. I really didn't have plans to continue the story, so the first page or so sat alone and abandoned on my computer for a few months.

Cleo: So there I was with these nine princesses, all the same age. From the start they were all very different in appearance, though the appearances themselves shifted a bit as the story evolved. I named most of them after famous female rulers in European history (those of you who read The Royal Diaries series will recognize where I got all the names), but I had trouble coming up with a name for the ninth princess. There are only so many Marys and Maries and Victorias you can have. So then I started thinking, "What if I made my ninth princess the ugly duckling of the family"? In keeping I named her Cleopatra (a much more exotic name and of different origin than the others, which already gives her the brand of 'different') and made her short, dark, and slightly overweight despite her love of riding and hunting. Cleo looks nothing like me in real life, but I identify with her wonderings about ever getting married when there are so many prettier girls to choose from. From there, her personality took off like a rocket. She should be similar to the overall good-natured personality of the group, but with stark deviations: peppery and "sporty", independent-minded and willing to converse with people of any class. I tried to maintain these basic characteristics throughout the story as it grew and Cleo grew with it, especially as her flaws started to fade into the background and the story itself took over centerstage.

Andy: Andy was originally just a simple squire who delivered the message of the Prince of Laridia's capture. Cleo was supposed to go on the quest by herself, fall in love with the prince once she'd rescued him, and return to his kingdom to become the future Queen of Laridia. A very respectable role reversal of the classic fairytale style, and easily completed in 30 pages of writing or less (the Forbidding Woods didn't exist yet either). But somehow I didn't think that quite fit with Cleo's nature to be more comfortable with the common people than with royalty. So I sent the squire after her, with the thought that they would get together and she would give up her title to roam with him. But that didn't seem to fit, either. At about the time Milton appeared in the story, I decided to really shake things up and make the squire into the Prince of Laridia himself. But then whom were they going to rescue? Andy's character grew rapidly from there. Andy has the personality of most of the really smart guys I know: infuriatingly teasing, a habit of being right that cuts the self-respecting girl down a few notches, but a real sweetheart underneath the bravado. I did try to maintain more human qualities in him as well, making him a late riser and raised to be a bit biased towards his own sex in a world where men still rule by right. His time with Cleo makes the latter fade considerably, which is good since I did want some character growth in all the main characters evident as the story progressed.

Jester, Strawberry, Colonel, and Tulip: A good huntress has to have a loyal team of animal supporters. I had to have a greyhound in the story, having lived with three in my lifetime so far and being obsessed with them since I was about 8. They are hunting dogs anyway so Strawberry (which is a nickname of mine) fit right in. I have also known a great deal of border collies in my life, enough to give me a hearty respect for their ferocious intelligence and ability to problem-solve. Though they are not traditionally hunting dogs I added one to the story anyway in the form of Jester. His joking cheerfulness later added a contrast to Strawberry's clipped, sensible reserve. Tulip, like her mistress, doesn't look like much bit hides a wealth of inner talents that make her a firm and sensible companion for a young woman who generally shuns human company. For a long time Colonel was just 'Andy's mount', but when I decided to give the animals the power to speak I realized he needed a name as well. Colonel just seemed to fit.

The Forbidding Woods: Anyone who has read Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles will recognize a few characteristics of her Enchanted Forest in my Forbidding Woods. Originally they were the 'Forbidden Woods', but I thought that sounded a bit too clichéd. If you happen to come across any 'Forbidden Woods' in my story it was either a typo or one of the few I forgot to change. The Woods are dangerous precisely because they have their own rules, which makes them doubly dangerous for the writer giving life to them. They have a habit of making those who come out of them sane much stronger individuals for it, and I'd like to think that I've grown up a bit through my experience in writing this story.

Stephanie: If you've read book four in the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, you will see some of the obnoxious princess Isabella in my original idea for Stephanie. When I first wrote her character, she was just a distraction for my main characters to encounter and learn more about each other through and had a foolish, pompous, annoying personality to match. She was going to be everything that Cleo wasn't, and then my characters were going to move on to the next challenge. But when I came to the end of the scene, I found the prickly question that Andy and Cleo have to deal with: what should they do with her? I hadn't anticipated them taking the annoying deposed princess along, but since she had no knight to protect her they couldn't just ride off and leave her in the forest. After some heavy thinking, I went back and changed Stephanie drastically to make her much more suitable for a secondary heroine: generally quiet and unassuming but with a slight tendency to become hysterical in a few select situations, and a bit of the 'helpless princess' mentality that Cleo lacks. Of all my characters, she altered the most from conception to final-draft personality, but I'm very pleased with how she turned out in the end.

Ryon: Possibly one of my most inspired creations, if I do say so myself. I have a metallic poster next to my desk of a dragon on a cliff looking up at the full moon, glacier-colored bat-wings spread wide, with darker blue scales and burning golden eyes. This, essentially, was my inspiration for Ryon's appearance, and I have maintained it to this day in the story. I was going to write a completely separate story for that dragon, something about a society of dragons where each one comes of age by going through a year in the body of another species, and that particular dragon got stuck as a human. I may still write that story, but the picture itself gave excellent inspiration for both Ryon's appearance and the idea of a dragon becoming a human. Of course there would have to be a reason behind it, and out of that the whole idea of the Clans in the forest.

The Egg: As soon as I had Ryon join the group, I knew he and Stephanie belonged together. But I had no idea how to make it come about, other than to develop their relationship slowly, as I was with Andy and Cleo. I twined their powers more tightly in an effort to bridge the greater gap between them than the one between Andy and Cleo. I also made the decision for them to conceive a child out of wedlock as the means for bringing them together at last. To offset this, I carefully kept Andy and Cleo chaste until marriage and was as subtle as possible in scenes that might cause problem. Even so, I rated the piece K to try to forestall any remaining complaints. I know the egg thing is a little weird, but I thought it fit the rest of the story fairly well.

Merlyn & the Element-powers: I wanted my four main characters to have magical powers in order to defeat the Blue Star Mage. I'd also been building the backstory of Merlyn slowly through references in the main story, and it seemed a natural extension to have him be the mysterious man to bestow the powers on my characters. I had been debating for quite awhile what powers to give them, however. Once I latched onto the idea of making them come from the four elements, the task began of choosing which person received which power. Ryon obviously would get Fire, but the others changed constantly as I considered their personalities. At last I decided Stephanie should get the Air-powers, but I was still debating between Water and Earth for Cleo and Andy. I wanted Cleo to continue to be able to understand the animals even outside the forest, but the rest of the Earth-powers I wanted the bearer to use didn't seem to fit. Looking back, I could have given her the Earth element and it would have worked out fine, but I am pleased with what I ended up with.

Ruling the Kingdom: I honestly wasn't going to make Andy and Cleo the future King and Queen. I had no idea whom I wanted to take over the throne, but I knew I had to determine it before I closed the story, since that was the dilemma that began the whole story in the first place. My prime characters weren't ready for it, so I wasn't ready to make them ready. If that makes sense. I didn't decide to have the King offer them the throne until literally the wedding ceremony was taking place, and I didn't decide to have them accept until I started writing the wedding night scene. I think what they decided suits their personalities to a T.

Thanks for reading everybody, and I hope you enjoyed the insights into the creative process of the story.

-SamoaPhoenix