Brainstorming/planning my stories is actually my favorite part of the writing process, and “The Wulver’s Rose” is no exception. Perhaps it’s further proof of my INTJ-ness, but scheming and plotting are two of my favorite things to do, which makes it a good thing that I’m a writer and not a criminal.
Of course, the actual writing of a story often changes (or at least alters) the plot, and I've found that it's best not to get too attached to certain plot points lest they prove unsuitable for the characters that emerge during that first draft. But plotting is a very important part of writing for me (no "pantser" am I) and it was even more intense for my writing of this tale, since it was a retelling of a specific story.
Warning: spoilers for “The Wulver’s Rose” will be involved in this post, so if you haven’t read it, be aware.
I knew, as soon as I learned of the Rooglewood Press Fairy Tale collections during the Five Glass Slippers contest, that if they ever did “Beauty and the Beast,” I’d want to enter. It’s my all-time favorite fairy tale, and one that I’ve always felt a special kinship to, probably because I related so much to Belle in the Disney movie. However, I also knew that I didn’t want to push myself— “Beauty and the Beast” is too special a tale for me to write a half-baked, lackluster story just for the sake of writing one.
So when I saw that the next contest was, indeed, “Beauty and the Beast,” I stared at my computer screen at the cover of Five Enchanted Roses trying for the life of me to come up with a plot. I knew I didn’t want to base mine on the Disney version—it’s been such a part of my “Beauty and the Beast” experience that I wanted to do something different, something that followed the original tale more closely. At the beginning I was open to almost any setting or twist, but I did have a few guidelines I wanted to follow: 1) to base it on a version other than Disney’s tale 2) to make the beast an actual well-known creature from mythology and 3) to make sure that the beast is not cursed due to his own actions (I’ll go into my reasons for that last one, later)
And then, in the irony that is life, it was thinking about the Disney version that gave me my own spin on the plot:
What do I do about the servants? I don’t want to make them enchanted objects; that’s too Disney. Although it is interesting that the most important enchanted object—the rose—was the only one not actually a person in the movie.* WAIT- what if it was a person? Oh, that makes so much sense! THAT explains why the beast would be so upset over the merchant’s taking of the rose in the original story. It always did seem kind of silly to get that mad about a rose, unless it was important…unless it was a person…
My imagination spun out of control at this point, and I started scribbling down my ideas. Here’s a peek into my “book of secrets” and some early planning of the story. Amazingly, most of these notes actually ended up translating and being incorporated into the final story, despite that this was all very early planning:
It was actually my heroine’s name that originally sparked my idea on the setting, since “Bonnie” means “pretty,” and I wanted a name comparable to the original. In looking up names that meant “Beauty,” “Bonnie” was really the only one I liked enough to use. Of course, I then found out later that “Bonnie” isn’t usually used as a name in Scotland (It’s actually more of an American thing, as a tribute to Scottish heritage) but I decided to use it anyway, even if it was uncommon, since we don’t really go around naming our daughters “Beauty,” either. The fact that Bonnie is my character’s nickname also made it more plausible. During this time, I simultaneously researched Scottish mythology and quickly settled on the wulver as my beast. In fact, it almost seemed too perfect a creature to be true! The legends surrounding the wulver also ended up winding their way into my story. (And again, wolves tend to remind me of the story of “Beauty and the Beast” in general—another unintentional Disney moment)
Then, research was required. I had a hunch to make it take place in the 17th or 18th century, so I checked out a rather massive book of Scottish history from the library. I meant to just read the material pertinent to the 1600 and 1700s, but I ended up reading the whole thing, mostly because I’m just a history weirdo but also because I decided it gave me a better overall grasp of Scottish history and culture in general.
My next step was to re-read Beauty and the Beast. I used Andrew Lang’s translation of Madame de Villeneuve’s version, although surlalunefairytales.com claims that his translation is actually more of a combination of her story and de Beaumont’s; I’m not yet enough of a fairy tale scholar to comment on that. (As an interesting aside, Scotland and France were very closely aligned in their history during this time period, so that connection was also another sign that I felt I was heading in the right direction). I then read it through a second time, this time taking a pad and paper and writing down all of the elements in the original tale that I wanted to keep (such as the fire and Beauty/Bonnie being the youngest of a large family)
One thing about the original tale is that, unlike the Disney version, the beast is not cursed because of his own wrongdoing. This is one thing I wanted to keep, simply because of my own views on magic. The Bible condemns witchcraft, and while fairy tale magic doesn’t always bother me (It depends upon the context in which it’s used) I knew that I didn’t want the enchantress to be the “good guy,” who was teaching the beast a lesson. Also, quite frankly, I didn’t think I could keep all the other elements I wanted to use and involve a deep character change on the beast’s part in the twenty thousand word limit. As far as the magic goes, Scottish culture and mythology was again a help, and I quickly researched the area’s early paganism. (Which I wouldn’t say I’d recommend doing just for kicks—some of those websites are seriously creepy and you might wander into an occult forum. You have been duly warned by someone with experience.)
However, by this time I was just starting to begin my first draft (longhand, in a notebook—be impressed) and was feeling a little nervous. My story followed the original very closely, and it wasn’t something new and exciting and original. I wasn’t expecting to surprise people with some crazy plot twist, and I wondered if my story wouldn’t get picked because of it. And then, right as I was assaulted with all of these misgivings, Anne Elisabeth Stengl wrote a post (which I’ve since tried to find to no avail) on this very thing. I don’t remember her exact words, but she assured the aspiring contest applicants that it was perfectly fine to have very traditional retellings—Rooglewood Press was interested in those too, as long as they were well-written. I felt a huge weight life off my chest and I got back to work: My story would not deviate far from the original story, which meant it would probably be predictable. But that didn’t mean it had to be boring; I knew that I had to focus on making “The Wulver’s Rose” the best that it could possibly be in other respects.
While Disney’s movie did not contribute largely to my tale, I was influenced, just slightly, by Robin McKinley’s Beauty, which I had read a few years before. I was a little fuzzy on the particulars of the story since I’d read it a while back, but one thing I did remember was that I loved the mood and feel of the novel: It somehow managed to be mysterious and eerie but strangely home-y, too. I didn’t let myself re-read the book during my writing, since I didn’t want my plotting or characters to be affected by her version of the story. But I did keep it in mind as I tried to emulate the feelings she’d given me and infuse those same emotions into my own story.
And thus I wrote my first draft, let my family read it, let it sit for a month, let my family read it again, then edited/tweaked it a little…and then the deadline fast approached and I sent off my poor little story into the world (which was HIGHLY nerve-wracking, as I’d never done it before; it was even before I’d published Hidden Pearls, after all!) and the rest is history. (Well, there was obviously more to it than that, as MUCH work was involved in the editing and publishing process after I learned I’d won the contest…but that’s a whole ‘nother post. ;)
And there ends this essay...if you've stuck around and read this whole thing, I applaud.
*yeah, in the interest of accuracy, the enchanted mirror wasn’t a person either, but I wasn’t thinking of that at the time.