I tend to go through several different versions of an idea as I try to make it work. This past year being what it's been, I've been doing this more than usual; when nothing works, it's easy to try throwing everything away and starting anew. One story I've been trying to do has its origins in the classic Snow White fairy tale, so when I first tried to figure it out and it didn't work, I thought there was one major thing I'd done wrong:
I hadn't included any dwarves.
Looking back, I'm not sure how I ever thought I could tell a Snow White story without dwarves. I mean, they're right there in the name. So when I started to plot a new version of my story, the dwarves were front and center from the beginning. There would, of course, be seven of them, because that's just how it's supposed to be. However, the farther along in development I got, the less I liked what I was working with. It took me months, but I eventually realized that I'd fallen into a trope's trap.
That trope? Our Dwarves Are All the Same.
Much as I hate to say it, this one's really true. I'd bet that, when you read this entry's title, you got a mental image of a dwarf that would be about 90% similar to anyone else's mental image. And I found that, when I tried to develop seven distinct dwarven characters for the story, I had some real trouble getting them to be different from each other.
This is not an issue I've ever had. I've written a bunch of humans, some elves, some dragons, several cat-people, quite a few demons, so on and so forth. STARWIND alone contains wargolems, a gnome, a lamia, and a handful of different species I didn't even give names. Yet somehow it's easier for me to write a small furry creature as the ship's pilot than it is for me to imagine a dwarf who steps outside of the usual dwarven traits.
The weird thing is, this took me out of the story entirely, and I stopped wanting to write it. The idea of having so many characters who just blended together in my mind had me wondering if it was worth working on or not. I genuinely don't get it. What is it about dwarves that makes so many people want to only write them one way? There are always stereotypes about fantasy races, but for every magical, forest-dwelling, utterly stuck-up elf out there, there are dozens of variations on the race. So what was wrong with me that I couldn't get this right?
Eventually, I accepted that it wasn't going to work out - I couldn't find an answer that led to me writing the characters as the individuals they should be, not just plain dwarves. I delved back into my notes for the initial version of the story, and looked up the characters who'd originally played the roles of seven specific people. Then, I put the two plots into a blender and started mixing.
The result has been overwhelmingly positive so far. Part classic fairy tale (I even worked in the evil stepmother), part classic movie plot. I'm starting to think this one's going to work out, and hoping I can get the plot done this year and write it next year.
Because if I'm finally going to do "Snow White and the Seven Samurai", I'm going to get it right.