All fantasy settings in the Twin Spirals Universe started from a piece of Neverwinter Nights fanfiction.
Specifically, it was fanfiction for a certain kobold bard who first appeared in Shadows of Undrentide and went on to play a prominent role in Hordes of the Underdark. That is, if you chose to recruit him. You could also not do so if hearing him sing “doom-de-doom doom” every time he inspired you and the other party members wasn’t appealing.
That’s right. Every mystical tale I’ve ever scribed, every world, every character? If you like a single sentence of it, then in a certain sense you owe it all to tiny little Deekin’s influence when I started writing way back in 2008. You might think this would’ve been because he saw everyone around him as characters in the book he was writing.
If so, you’re giving my past incarnation, a sixteen-year-old boy, far too much credit. It was because Deekin had minor dragon powers and seemed funny. Or perhaps I’m the one not giving that previous me enough credit. Looking back, and assuming my memory offers the truth, it was because Deekin was a tiny little guy who wasn’t that great as a bard or adventurer, always out of his depth and frequently knocked unconscious because I was horrible at tactics.
He never once let that stop him from keeping pace with the conventional heroes around him. In short, he made quite a handy self-insert for a young writer who felt dwarfed by a world full of literary giants. That young writer decided that for his post-game ending character arc, Deekin should become a golden dragon. Yes, I know kobolds, including Deekin, usually have red dragon heritage. Or at least, Deekin’s tribe did.
Eventually, younger me realized that having the result literally be Deekin was both quite limiting for the story and also, let’s be frank, pretty dumb.
This resulted in my past self’s first ever set of book-drafts. All centered to some greater or lesser extent on a golden dragon named Daecin’arat’helk–a shameless rip of the Forgotten Realms’ draconic name formatting–as well as his extremely obvious future love interest (did I not say these were the drafts of a teenage boy?) the silver dragon Srin’ala’kesh, and adoptive brother, the black dragon Vka’rien’dal. I seem to recall the apostrophes eventually disappeared, but in practice this trio referred to each other as Daecin or indeed “Deek”, Srin, and Vkarien.
If you’re not certain how to pronounce those, well, neither was I.
Their most successful sally possessed surprising promise for a teenager’s first major efforts: a world of draconic clan holdings in polite but often strained relationships with humanoids, a perpetual background threat from invading demons, necromancers, and black magic. High fantasy clichés, to be sure, but their arrangement held the first kernels of settings I still use today. Let’s not forget that in this story, the dragons were both the primary PoV characters and our protagonists! This idea–to experience the world through beings who would normally be villains, challenges or at best friendly side characters in the older fantasy works which inspired them: this had true potential.
Alongside silly ideas like draconic holdings having the same room layout and types as those of humans a fraction of their size, there were genuinely compelling ones about what martial arts might look like for creatures built so differently from humans. Badly executed at the time, yes, but bad execution does not a bad concept make. It’s easy to fixate on the many ridiculous notions we develop in our early days as writers. Yet mixed right in with all our worst ideas, we start to hone our best.
I wouldn’t mind going back one day and finishing the trio’s story. Why not use the familiarity of the dragons to help ground the reader amidst the far more original, sometimes disorienting concepts of the modern Twin Spirals Universe?
I’d love to do that. I cannot. I cannot because the local documents containing most of that story’s hard details were by turns abandoned with an old computer tower and then, in their last stand upon an equally-antiquarian USB key, smashed asunder by an errant knee-jerk–this will lead us to some painful symbolism all too soon, for which I apologize–while standing up in a computer lab during my first year of college.
Along with them went the larval forms of many other stories. I actually retain a hard copy of the second attempt at a science fantasy novel very imaginatively titled Solar Imperium, but it’s missing a few dozen pages written in the last year of high school. The first draft was a fever-dream masterpiece featuring literally exponential stakes as a few dozen slave laborers in rebellion became a few hundred became, apparently, billions in the course of a few pages which also featured phantasmagoric V.R. training, dialogue so expositional it was surreal, and spontaneously appearing gods trying and failing to ape the hyper-active, comedy-rich pantheon of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.
In musing on its second draft for this very article, I realized one of its ideas could be retooled as the inspiration for an article detailing a completely new approach to flagships in the Twin Spirals’ more futuristic sub-settings. I went on such a tear with it just now that I was distracted from my usual line-edit and after-posting touch-ups to this article.
This was the first Lost Archive. Rife with flaws and delirium, with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it plot twists which failed to actually twist the plot. And with each passing day, I wish more fiercely that I could have it back.
Those earliest stories, for all their mistakes, for all their contrivances and copy-pasted ideas, also contained an uncomplicated joy for writing: for fantasy and science fiction. I lost that joy shortly after arriving in college. I never truly regained it. Joy involves a certain abandon, freedom from worry. I derive professional satisfaction from my craft now. I love scenes, story arcs, and characters, yes. But joy? I rarely feel joy about them. Joy is too uncomplicated a thing to coexist with the standard of perfection I demand from my novels.
I write this article in hopes that other writers, fledglings and veterans alike, will take more care with their unsuccessful work than I. Our early pieces are often uproarious debauches against the writer’s craft itself. They’re also gifts from our past. Perhaps relics from a past age glimmering with light now gone from our inner worlds, perhaps grim reminders of our flaws. Either, both, or neither: they always have value. They let us reach back and brush fingers with our old selves.
Some among you likely remember, or at least remember that I’ve referenced, that this blog was once called Musings of a Non-Sparkly Aspergian. Yet, do you remember how it truly began? Before the current layout, when the site itself was simple white text on black pages. Before I learned to stop writing stream of consciousness. In the old days, when I chased every tangent. In the old days, when I had the most to type but the least to say. In the old days, when this blog was still written for someone other than myself.
If any remain who started following my writing here during that earliest iteration, I fear I’ve lost track of them. I suspect I know the reason; on at least three separate occasions I swore I was shutting the blog down permanently. This stemmed from deep-seated psychological conflicts, but I imagine from the outside that it looked like attention-seeking. I knew it at the time, but here’s a curious thing: when you’re at your lowest, any form of outcry makes its own species of sense.
I mention this because I don’t want any among you who have your own inner turmoil to think you owe it to anyone to put a brave face on it–you don’t, and may all burn who dare suggest you do–or handle it gracefully. I also mention it to explain the second and likely larger Lost Archive.
Owing to the same troubles I mention above, at some point in late 2017–I think it may have been right after escaping Psychiatric Hell, but my memories of that time run hazy–I stiffened my spine, gritted my teeth, and deleted over a hundred articles from this blog. They ran the gamut from such childish absurdity as ranting at Kill Bill for the dire sin of focusing its fight scenes on stylized action–you know, that Tarantino thing?–rather than realism, to an entire series of worldbuilding articles with an average length of 3,000+ words, each focused on a unique topic, each building on the previous one.
Of the latter, I remember absolutely nothing. I regret that more each day.
All told, the second Lost Archive may have contained as many as 200,000 words of prose. Was most of it good? Perhaps not. Did it often highlight my past self’s most uncomfortable, unjustified, or outright infuriating character flaws? Absolutely. Yet without every last one of those words, you wouldn’t have the same writer typing to you. Even if the pieces themselves lacked merit–and I’ll wager there’s much I should’ve salvaged from the worldbuilding articles, at least–they still provided practice.
With each post, the mistakes became a little less pronounced. With each paragraph, my grasp of structure, pacing, and style grew stronger. Those old posts, despite their mediocre execution, despite their bile, and despite the problematic content I’m sure one or two contained, had one grand merit. They should have been a rare testament, a hundred-some linked time capsules offering insight into a writer during their single greatest period of growth in skill–one which coincided with their most devastating period of personal change.
For three years from 2014 to 2017, I scarcely wrote outside this blog. A few pages’ worth of abortive novel drafts, even sparser lore documents, and exhaustive class work provide the exceptions. College being college, the latter took precedence.
Thus there exists a three-year gap in my body of work commemorated only by faint fragments and a few articles I deemed “salvageable.” Naturally, these were the best, and thus the least representative of my overall skill. Most of them come from the same short period in 2016. It’s like uncovering the remains of a swift-abandoned colony from an ancient empire: a brief trove of lore and tantalizing clues luring you to seek answers that time’s march obliterated long ago.
I suppose that’s my thesis: that even our most pitiable pratfalls as writers have some merit. Learning any creative field is, I think, like trying to run in a world where walking doesn’t exist. There are so many new ideas, so many sub-skills and tricks of the trade, that for a long time we become punctured basins. Ideas slip through our minds, flooding out and scooped back in again until some few find purchase long enough for the others to stick to them in turn.
After many years, I’ve grown secure enough in my craft that I want to trace that messy dance. I want to sift back through time from the beginning–hold court with my previous incarnations and ask, with a wry smile, “So, did you ever guess we’d wind up here?”
Yet there will always be empty places among our ranks. One for the First, who launched a universe. Many for the numberless incarnations who wrought the Second Archive.
I suppose that supplies my closing: no matter how much you hate it now, no matter how shameful or inept you find it, preserve your writing. Preserve it for your future self. Even if it exists solely as a promise that you’ll do better. Even if angry voices within your own mind scream that it’s worthless.
In creative fields, our past selves sooner or later become the giants whose shoulders we stand upon. Maybe it’s best if you don’t idolize them. But one day, mark my words, you will want to remember their stories.