Ethra: A World in the Making

It all started late one Friday night thirteen years ago.

We had just finished watching some Disney movie. After the movie, six-year-old me wouldn’t go to sleep. I kept bouncing up and talking to my mom and dad, both of whom were tired after a long day. My dad picked up the remote control, aimed it at me, and pressed the power button. “I turned you off!” he joked. “You’re going to sleep now!”

I played along and collapsed. I was far from asleep, though. Lying there, eyes closed, my mind was racing. A magical remote control that could make people go to sleep? What else might it be able to do?

The next day, I started writing a story: “Tales of the Very Cool Remote”, or Tales of the VCR for short. I knew that VCR was also the thing that you stuck movies in to watch them, and I thought it was so clever that I made the title of my story have an acronym with those same letters (yes, I’m old enough that I can say I remember video cassette recorders/players; and yes, the quality of my puns has improved since then, although my friends might argue that it hasn’t improved by much).

Tales of the Very Cool Remote was a simply riveting, twenty-page story of six-year-old Nathan, his barely one-year-old brother, and their best friends: A. A. Milne’s Pooh Bear, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, Rabbit, and the rest of the crew. Each page had one or two paragraphs of text at most, and most of the pages had hand-drawn first-grade illustrations to go with them. The premise is as follows: while trying to watch a movie, we found a magical remote control. After playing around with it a little, we used the number pad to dial a different channel. It took us to an alternate world: a world of knights, castles, and dragons. We explored the world, slayed dragons, and helped the king and his knights stop the evil emperor and his armies.

After I wrote this first story, I dreamed up distant kingdoms, sequels, and spin-offs that I never wrote about. In seventh grade, however, I revisited the Tales of the Very Cool Remote, and decided to try to make it into a more complete story. I wrote a movie script version of the story, replacing Pooh Bear and company with a few of my friends. The story followed a bit more of a plot arc: once we arrived in the fantasy world, our remote control was stolen by a hawk, and on our way to get it back we had to overcome enemies such as Vikings, mummies, and of course, dragons. Seventh-grade Nathan, not realizing the amount of effort that goes into a feature-length film, fully planned on creating an entire movie.

Well, that never happened, but the story was a bit more fleshed out. Many of the elements of the first story remained. There was still a spooky forest, a not-spooky forest, a vast desert with a distant mountain range, and a climactic (if poorly developed) battle between good and evil armies. But now there was more substance to the story, and the world was about to be set in motion.

In ninth grade, I decided I would try my hand at taking the basic concept of my Very Cool Remote story and turning it into a novel. That was my first experience taking on something of this magnitude. I still had a lot to learn (I still do), but I did learn one lesson very quickly: once I started, there was no stopping. I was invested in this story and even if it was a messy, mediocre first draft, I was in it for the long haul.

I still remember the Thursday afternoon late that fall when the story finally clicked for me. I was already on chapter 14, but I hadn’t figured out the storyline yet. (Another lesson I’ve learned: if you just start writing, something will happen at some point. It may take a while to get there, but that’s what revisions are for.) My brother was playing MarioKart as I started bouncing ideas off him. I was literally pacing the living room, unable to contain my excitement. The story was finally taking shape. Characters had motives! There was a plot! The heroes and villains had interesting interplay! And the novel finally developed a noteworthy name: The Eternity Stone.

(Side note: In case you were wondering, I started my novel by getting rid of the remote control and replacing it with a magic bottle. It felt a bit more appropriate to the genre.)

The story flowed from there. Pretty much everything about my world changed, but one sliver of geography remained the same: there was a thick, overgrown forest next to a thinner, safer woodland; a capital city to the south; a vast, sprawling desert to the north; and a mountain range at the end of the desert. To this day, that one trivial detail from my story as a 6-year-old remains the same, although everything else has radically changed.

By the end of ninth grade, I had a complete first draft of my first novel, and I was planning books 2 and 3. Fast-forward to junior and senior year, where I slowly worked on book 2 as I had time. I took a break from the series in November to work on a different project with NaNoWriMo (I’ll talk more about that in a different post). It was during that project that something special happened. One of my minor characters, who was just supposed to kinda hang around in the background, started saying and doing things that suggested that he had an elaborate backstory. I didn’t know what that elaborate backstory was.

I pulled the character aside and basically said “dude, what are you doing? You’re not supposed to be significant!” and he said, “well, too bad. You’re gonna have to write a book about me sometime.”

From that moment forward, many (if not most) of my characters established their own free will of sorts. When I returned to my sequel book, I wasn’t telling my characters what to do anymore. They just did stuff and I wrote it down.

During senior year, my vision of the scope and breadth of the world increased exponentially. The world went from an island kingdom to a sprawling empire to a supercontinent to an entire globe. Character concepts and plot elements started pouring onto the paper. Before I knew it, this world had spiraled out of control and taken on a life of its own.

Now I’m trying to catch up and record everything that’s going on. I’m about a hundred pages into book 3 of my trilogy. Once I finish this trilogy, I’m gonna take a break from writing novels for a little while. I will continue to write short stories that are set in this world, and I’ll return to the novel scene in a year or so and start working on my next series set in this world.

Well, that was a lot longer than I meant for it to be. I didn’t get bored talking about this world, and I hope you were equally not-bored reading about it. I hope you’re intrigued enough to join me as I gradually discover more about this magical place. Both of the short stories that I’ve posted on this site are set in my fantasy world, and many more will be set here as well. Welcome to the world of Ethra!

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