MF High School Edition: Bring on the Drama, or the Adventures of Young Maggie Stiefvater

Okay, so according to our theme this week, we are each posting humiliating pieces of our early writing for our readers’ amusement and enlightenment. Unfortunately, as I wrote (but didn’t always finish) 34 novels before I was published, and started writing when I was but a tiny maggot, I had much material to choose from. There were many forms of badness to choose from, from the very subtle to the roaringly hilarious, but finally I put my writing faults into a few major categories:

1. The relentless melodrama of a teen with a cause. I wrote a lot of IRA thrillers when I was 14-17, usually about disenfranchised Irish men who wanted to make a difference and got sucked into a bad crowd, or Irish-Americans being forced to pay for the crimes of their fathers, or former IRA terrorists who now had realized that they found the wet work unappealing and were trying to get out despite blackmail and hilariously bad sworn threats. They all have different names, plots, etc., but one thing is the same: the melodrama.

Example A typifies this:

Hounds of Ulster [I always had way more titles than novels]

[some manly pen name so that when I got this gem published it would sit comfortably on the shelf with Jack Higgins, the reader never suspecting i was but a sixteen year old girl]

What then remains, but that we still
should cry,
Not to be born, or being born, to die?
-Francis Bacon [I always had to have an enigmatic, fierce quote to start them off properly]

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Chapter One

Even the sounds of the street could not drown out the steady clatter of the flag pulling vainly at its bounds, high above the sidewalk. There was the harsh, metallic clatter against the flag pole, the soft, seductive rush of the flag in the breeze, and then the defiant snapping and cracking of the flag as the wind caught it and threw it here and there. [yep, the reader prolly knows what flags do]

It flew high above the sidewalks, where tourists and locals made their way to and from shops. It hung from a narrow flagpole, and was barely five feet long, but the shadow it cast could’ve stretched for hundreds of miles, a narrow strip of dark amongst the light. [again typical flag behavior, I’m waiting for the conflict here]

It was the British flag. [oh, SNAP! oh, wait . . . ]

It flew high above the Royal Ulster Constabulary police station, oblivious to everything below, cold and uncaring, for it was, after all, only a flag. [no comment. No, no comment]

2. There was the rampant abuse of cliches when I wrote fantasy. I used ’em all: unicorns slowly dying off, lost princes, forgotten heirs, thirteen-year enchantments, amnesiacs, dragons names Nagon, names formed with apostrophes, enchanters named Erik. And usually combined them with horrifically bad prose, syrupy description, and excessive internal monologue. Case in point, opening of a fantasy novel cleverly titled THE ENCHANTER:

The boy stirred slightly by the edge of the main road, chilled by the hard, cold ground, and scratched by the thorns which surrounded him. His eyes flew open, and he stared up at the dusky sky. The trees that bordered the road were stripped of leaves, their black branches reaching for the sky like so many bony fingers. [so you’re saying real estate is cheap here? don’t sugar coat it]

The boy furrowed his brow. Where was he? He reached out with his hands and grabbed onto a branch. The thorns pressed into his hand, drawing blood, so it was no dream. But who was he? He sat up suddenly as he realized that he didn’t know who he was. [he’s an amnesiac! WOW! That’s never been used before in a novel!]

He looked down at himself. He wore a deep blue tunic with several slashes across it, tall, smooth, brown leather boots with short silver spurs, and tan leggings. He had a fit, tall, youthful frame, and his hands looked strong and well-used. [used for what, Erik? used for WHAT!?]

"Two plus two," he said aloud, listening to his own voice. "Four." He answered himself. So he knew arithmetic. He hadn’t totally lost his mind, whoever he was. [I wouldn’t go that far.] He simply had no identity.

3. There were the multiple non-IRA thrillers I attempted, all stunningly naive, which all could easily fall into the category of Harrison Ford fanfic. Go on, imagine him doing the voiceover on this one:

My name is Duncan Buchanan, or it used to be. Now I’m John Benfield, or Joshua Casey, or the Wolf, or whoever itis that I’m needed to be. I’ve been all over the world, and all places and no places are my home. I’ve been so many people it’s hard to remember who the real Duncan Buchanan is, but I remember that he used to sing along to 16th century Counter Reformation masses and play a mean acoustic
guitar. [so, typical guy things] He used to love black tea and getting up early. After that things start to fade into a studied schizophrenia. A lonely way to live– no, not exactly lonely. But my work is my life, so I know I’ll die doing exactly what I’m doing now. But no matter what happens, I’ll always remember that first day, that first month, that first year when the world changed for me forever. [cue helicopter shot of the Pentagon or close up of Harrison Ford’s face]

4. A trifling lack of concern for side characters. Not their welfare, but rather their personalities and appearances. In this lovely time-traveling novel, for instance (which I helpfully wrote as a seven-book series which got successively more painful until we ended up in the 1940s with some guy named Johann), kindly note the names of the maids.

"That means we have to get you all the more beautiful for tomorrow’s ball," said Milly. Lizzie shook her head.
"I’m only going as a scribe, and right now, I’m going to bed," Lizzie said. She sat down on a spare mattress, but the maids dragged her up again.
"No, you’re not," said Janey. "We have to get you ready for tomorrow’s ball."
"Oh, goody, this will be fun. She doesn’t have to ride, so she can wear ruffles and lace," said Beth. They began to poke her and fiddle with her hair. They started holding clothing up to her to check colors and sizes.
"Cream’s not her color, is it?" asked Ellie. All the maids shook their heads.
"Would her hair be better down or up?" asked Janey.
"Down," said Mary.
"Up," said Milly.
"How about lavender? Is that her color?" Ellie asked.
"No," said Beth. [Beth is clearly a rebel. Her name was originally Bethy, but she dropped the y when she dyed her hair black and started wearing an apron with rivets and skulls]
[I cut out more maid banter here, whereby they braid her hair and debate the color of her dress more]
"Well, let’s get to work," said Milly. Ellie handed Lizzie a beautiful green dress that looked a bit used. [used how? should we be asking Erik of the well-used hands?]

5. Nonsensical description. I was a fan of the metaphor, even back then, even if I didn’t quite understand that metaphors were supposed to clarify the situation, not make it murkier than a mill pond.

Rain spattered down the alley in fitful handfuls [just hold that image in your mind, dear reader] as Mullen picked his way slowly along the familiar track. A long, brown puddle, filled with perfect round circles as the droplets landed in it [droplets of what again? oh, right, rain. can we just say it’s raining?], stretched down the center of the alley, and Mullen avoided it. [pussy] There was no moon, but a soft yellow-brown light lit the night, distant street lamps reflected off the clouds. Still, it was dark in the alley [it’s hard to see by soft light the color of baby poo], and Mullen had to feel his way as he approached the end of it. [running his hands along bricks, dumpster, IRA men, and thorn bushes with enchanters in them along the way]

6. Witty dialogue that was mostly inspired by me imagining Cary Elwes saying it.

"Why did you come, Dominic? I know it wasn’t for the pleasure of my company or to ‘escort’ me!" Lizzie exclaimed. Dominic coolly steered his horse around the jagged rocks and looked at her with a superior smile.
"I came because I need to speak to Lord Emerson," Dominic said.
"Why, you water rat! You came so that I wouldn’t look better than you by bringing more information!" Lizzie cried. [oooh, water rat! BURN!]
"You think quickly, for a fool," replied Dominic evasively. [o, i say verily, snap again.]

7. Action sequences too boring to live (this was something that pretty much covered every novel, whether we were blowing up Ford Cortinas, racing horses, murdering countesses, or whizzing through time]. I invite you to merely skim the next passage. I sure as hell did.

Lizzie mounted up and rode Berry into the stable yard. [sadly, Berry is a horse] Berry suddenly gave a buck. Lizzie was caught by surprise and nearly didn’t stay on. Berry’s ears were laid back sullenly. Berry danced uneasily. Lizzie steered her in a circle and warmed her up, trotting her in circles. Berry bucked and tried to scrape her off on the fence. Lizzie directed her to a jump set up in the middle of the yard and Berry stopped suddenly in front, throwing her off. Lizzie got on and tried unsuccessfully to brush the dirt off her clothing. Lizzie steered Berry back to the fence. This time, Berry got a little closer to it before stopping, throwing Lizzie off. Lizzie tried to pick the drying mud off her legs before remounting. She turned Berry back to the fence. She urged Berry forward, and, a little further on, she fell off as Berry stopped. Lizzie remounted, trying fruitlessly to wipe the wet, gooey mud off her legs. Lizzie turned Berry back again, and again she stopped, this time right next to the fence, so that Lizzie flew over the fence solo and landed in the dust. The dust stuck to the mud on her clothing, which dried hard on her legs. Intrepid Lizzie remounted and headed Berry for the fence. Berry jumped it and in her excitement, Lizzie forgot to get into jump position. She fell off. [did you read all of that? yeah, I still didn’t, and this is the third time I’ve cut and paste it]

and finally, I would like to leave you with some choice sentences and remind you that yes, this is the writing of a NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR.

The black BMW cut through the rain like a rabbit through the brush; swift, darting, instinctively agile. [I like my car to handle like a rodent]
A second more of hesitation, and then Danny Finnegan and Tom Shelby trotted down to the cars and were stolen into the night. [by what?]

"Dog, get him!" shouted Lizzie, and pointed to the bandit with the club. She didn’t want him getting hurt. [the bandit or the dog?]

Eoghan was a tall, gaunt, wary-looking individual with dark hair, perhaps forty or forty-five, who looked as if he suspected that the world was out to get him. [You could basically drop any of my characters’ names into that description and it would fit. and they’re all right]

It was the most beautiful day in the most beautiful state at the most beautiful time of the year. [but was it the most beautiful part of the city is what I want to know?]

“"Where will you get the money?" she demanded.
Maginn shrugged. "Somewhere, I s’pose."

stuck stuck stuck stuck stuck stuck.

urg! Madly stuck. [some things just never change]

76 thoughts on “MF High School Edition: Bring on the Drama, or the Adventures of Young Maggie Stiefvater

  1. The FLAG! God I am totally in love with that still. I read it again, and when I get home I’ll read it again. Maybe out loud.

    I love this week.

  2. I made the mistake of reading this in a meeting. I had to cover my mouth to hide my smiles and swallow my giggles after reading:

    [I like my car to handle like a rodent]

    You’re awesome.


  3. This week WINS.

    Also, I almost died laughing reading the flag. I can’t even remember writing. Maybe I was drugged.

  4. Oh my gosh, that’s too funny! I don’t feel as bad now about the story I wrote in high school, in which I described for two pages how to make cabbage soup. 😛

  5. I love that the first thing Erik thinks to check, upon waking up in a forest with no memories, is… that he still knows how to add.


  6. what’s sad is the stuff that I couldn’t include because it was just too long and rambly to consolidate into a post. I could see cabbage soup happening.

  7. Oh, Cary Elwes. He’s such a newbie-writer whore. I used him for my novel about the Lady Jane Gray. Instead of a sucker mammas-boy (real life), Jane got a dashing witty prick who was just bad enough to retain his one-liners while realizing her love.
    Yup, one-liners held that novel together, haha.

  8. Clearly he’s from a family of left-brainers. He doesn’t check to make sure he can still draw a stick figure, or a representative sketch of a male bison.

  9. Funny how so many lines which sound acceptable when he says them in that accent look like dog puke on the printed page.

    Sigh. Cary, you got my number, right?

  10. I love your cold, uncaring flag. Love it. Even though it is, after all, only a flag.

    And also on a not-so-funny note…it’s kind of sad that 16-year-old you thought things would go better in a literary way with a male pen name. We’ve come a long way, huh?

  11. It’s true. Although, looking back on this, it was probably safer to submit this stuff to agents under a pen name.

    Of course, now I’ve sort of blown my cover. Sorry, Holt & Arthur Levine! whooo!

  12. OK, so I think I’m not normal. Because I read this sentence:

    “The boy stirred slightly by the edge of the main road, chilled by the hard, cold ground, and scratched by the thorns which surrounded him.”

    And I read ‘chilled’ as a verb meaning ‘hung out in a chill fashion, a la Dr Dre’ and ‘scratched’ as a verb meaning ‘used the revolutions and counter-revolutions of a vinyl record on a turntable to create a distictive rhythm and cadence’ and my brain went, “HOLY COW, SHE WAS WRITING THE HIP HOP ‘WALDEN’!!!!!”

    And then I went, “No, wait, that doesn’t seem right…”

  13. You are wonderful for posting this. I have a disturbingly clear picture of the gothed out apron Beth is wearing here …

  14. OMG that was sooooooo deliciously bad. Thanks for sharing! I’ve definitely fallen victim to the metaphor that makes no sense before.

  15. I will not comment on the fact of this post being the best — a post filled with bad prose on a short story blog. ;p

    Because I really liked annotating those horrible passages, I’ll admit it.

  16. You know, these aren’t nearly as bad as some of the high school work I have read before. 😛

    Oh crap, now I am tempted to go through my old work and post snippets for laughs.

  17. Perhaps ‘best’ was a little enthusiastic… Nope, I take that back, it was spot on, because nothing I have ever read in my life has made me smile (and go cross-eyed) quite like your passage of Lizzie riding Berry.

    PS, LOVE your avi!

  18. That, that is what it’s like to live in my head.

    I assure you, by the way, that yours is by no means that bad, when compared to my ‘edgy’ retelling of the birth of Christ, set in the 1980s with Mary as a pregnant teen Catholic schoolgirl tearfully insisting on her innocence (she was, in fact, too shy and modest to allow the doctor to confirm her virginity, fainting on the examining room table), Joseph as a tough streetgang ne’er-do-well, a mid-chapter three-page ‘monologue’ on the complicated ethics of abortion from a Mary-Sue ‘wise neighbor’ I was sure no one would recognize as just forty-year-old me with red hair and glasses (ironically, I now have red hair and glasses…), and the most clearly evil pair of Wall Street yuppies ever to grace the page, who wanted to adopt and raise up little Jesse (yes, I watched Full House, why do you ask?) to be a soulless corporate raider, thus creating the Antichrist and bringing about Armageddon.

  19. I love it . . . I laughed so hard . . . I even snorted. Yes. You read correctly I snorted. The flag description. LOVED IT! Confirming your brain still works with simple math was GENIUS. OK, that is all I got. One day I will post my undiscovered great works (*giggle*)and I don’t want to set myself for a blood bath.

  20. 6. Witty dialogue that was mostly inspired by me imagining Cary Elwes saying it.

    And this is where I finally broke into sobbing giggles and everyone else in the room wondered what medication I was on. Or need to be on.

    Thank you, this was awesome!

  21. I wanted to come here and give you snark, but this was so well pre-snarked that I have nothing.

    Nothing except a cold and uncaring flag which shall be waved in your general direction by my maid, Bessie, as I am far too busy riding Barry [not a horse] to wave it myself.

  22. This week on Merry Fates = The. Best. Week. Ever. It’s so awesome that you three were willing to share your high school misfirings (complete with older, wiser snark annotations) with the the rest of us. Thanks!

    Plus, you posted Cary Elwes. Yum.

  23. Honestly, based on some of the editing work I’ve done, your writing at sixteen is verysomewhat …mostly coherent. AND you actually knew what to do with dialogue tags, so I tip my hat to you.

    Still, I laughed myself silly (possibly because I’ve done many of these things in my own teenage writing ;)) and I swear, I tried to read the Lizzie and Berry paragraph and my eyes just kind of glazed over. And over.

    [used how? should we be asking Erik of the well-used hands?] <— I laughed. So hard. (Though I started cracking up at the flag and pretty much didn't stop the whole way through. The current-Maggie comments did a lot to aid my giggling.)

  24. Hee hee hee. Thanks. I did a lot of totally rambling stuff, I’m afraid, even if I knew how to use a dialog tag. Also, the melodrama! ah! the flag is but one example.

    Anyway, the notations were because Tess posted her excerpt on Wednesday and I said, “this would be far better if you annotated it.” And she did. And it was. And clearly I had to do it as well. ;p

    I STILL can’t read that Lizzie/ Berry paragraph, though it reads pretty well if you imagine that Berry is not a horse, but instead a 39-year-old investment banker on holiday from Tennessee.

  25. Too cute 🙂 I loved your present day “observations” peppered throughout. I am inspired to acquire the word SNAP into my vocabulary. Can I just randomly use it anywhere? Snap! Snappity-snap snap SNAP! (I love it!)

  26. And don’t we all melt when we hear those three little words from the love of our life, “As you wish.”

  27. I knew a horse like Berry. Actually I’ve known several variants of Berry. Lots of horse tantrums and lots of me not-but-almost-falling-off-the-horse moments. This post made my day.
    I love this week’s posts from you three merry fates.

  28. This gave me such giggles. Thank you so much for sharing! The flag… oh, the flag. And no, I couldn’t get through that horse paragraph. This makes me want to delve into my bad high school poetry.


  29. I love it!
    and It’s not bad at all! Compared to some of the tripe I’ve found on my computer. I’m as wwell to give up now! 😛
    The flag was so funny though!

  30. *wipes away tears of laughter*
    After reading these, I regret having tossed my pages of angsty teenage scribbles. Thanks for sharing.

  31. See, high school writting isn’t all that bad…
    Its middle school writting and below (at least when you in highschool, like meself, you want to try and believe you won’t laugh at what you write years later)
    Or maybe just a few weeks ago…

    I can already tell what im going to say when im older.
    [wow. dots… she’s addicted] [wow. Alter-egos. Alter-egos for every charecter. Alter-egos for the alter-egos. DOES THIS EVER STOP!] [Typos and dots.. I’m making myself addicted to them again][Yes, apparently every alter-ego of HIM! must have an R name unless its Fudge. Fudge is one lucky man]

    Take a day and i’ll be ashamed of this post all together. ^_^
    {oh yes, please excuse any awful grammatical mistakes and spelling mistakes… i can’t seem to type today. I almost spelled Mysteaks.)

  32. If I lived an extra day for each time I laughed, then I would live a thousand years, only thanks to this… It was too funny. Though I shouldn’t say that, because my stuff is almost as bad…

    And the action sequence!!! How many times did she fall??? Goddess!!

  33. I cannot even reread the action sequence all the way through to count. It is painfully boring.


  34. That was very entertaining. Really, some of it wasn’t that bad Maggie! I love the ideas you came up with – you can’t go wrong with Harrison Ford 😉

    I had this sentence in one of my WIP’s, “I drove with a purpose. Fast and agile like a cheetah through the streets of town.” Yeah, just. No.

    BTW thanks for that pic of Cary Elwes, *sigh* such a good movie. You are brave for sharing this, and I thank you, we all have to start somewhere 😉


  35. Apparently driving like animals is common in newbie literature. 🙂

    I’m glad it entertained!

  36. Oh, Maggie, you have done it again.

    Beth is obviously a rebel. She dropped the ‘y’ when she dyed her hair black and started wearing an apron with rivets and skulls on it.

    I love my car to handle like a rodent. Well more like a ninja, than anything. Silent, sneaky, and always capable of blowing up. Keep it up 😀


  37. First, I must say how awesomely brave you are to have posted this. The infamous amnesiac of high fantasy! Secret agents with dark pasts! Anthropomorphism of flags! Rarely have I read such an honest depiction of past writings. As always, you. are. awesome.
    Yes, I’m aware that this was posted over six months ago. I am absolutely fascinated by this blog and am sifting through old posts while listening to Radiohead.
    Also, Ms. Gratton, I believe you have stolen my soulmate. David Tennant is miiiine, my precioussss, yessss… (gollum, gollum)

    Virginia K.

  38. Hahah — I have to admit, I kind of love this post still, Virginia, so I’m happy that you found it. I really ought to reference it on my website.

    I’m happy that you’re enjoying the blog! 🙂

  39. I love this. It is awesome. Truly. All of them are so bad, so completely different to your writing now. My favourite, though, would have to be a tie between the flag and the rain, both of which I was probably doing a year or two ago (did I improve that much over so little time?).

    I’m also especially liking this one: It was the most beautiful day in the most beautiful state at the most beautiful time of the year. [but was it the most beautiful part of the city is what I want to know?]

    Mostly because I want to know if it really was the most beautiful part of the city.

  40. Of course. 🙂 Going out with the most beautiful guy in the world, with the most beautiful dog in the world, with the most beautiful family in the world etc. etc.

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