In the early eighties when I was six, I was obsessed with My Little Pony. The colourful plastic horses had just appeared on toy store shelves and I had made it my life’s mission to collect them all.
One day I found a big cardboard box and incorporated it into my pony games. Sunbeam, the unicorn, thought that as the only unicorn in Ponyland (translation: the only unicorn I owned so far), she should be the queen of the ponies. When the other ponies disagreed, Sunbeam hatched a plot. She asked Snuzzle if she would like to be a rock star, and set up a concert (with the cardboard box as the stage). All the ponies came out to see the show.
Surprise! The show was a trap. The cardboard box flipped ninety degrees and trapped the other ponies inside. Sunbeam proclaimed herself queen, with Snuzzle as her assistant.
Snuzzle was sad. She had wanted to be famous, not to hurt anyone. Sunbeam got angry and threw her into the pit (box) as well.
So Sunbeam was queen. But she was queen all alone, with no friends. Worse, with all the other ponies in captivity, their special powers (indicated by their symbols) stopped working. Soon, Sunbeam’s sun power had turned Ponyland into a desert.
Desperate, Sunbeam freed the other ponies, and stepped down from her position as queen. The other ponies’ powers caused the flowers and clover to grow again, the stars to shine again, the rain to fall again. And, in time, the ponies would learn to forgive Sunbeam for her mistake.
(Not bad for a six year old, hm?)
The next day in school, my class was given an assignment to write and illustrate our own books for a project called Young Authors. I knew right away what I wanted to do. I was so happy with the plot I had made up for my pony game that I decided to write down the story. Entitled “Sunbeam’s Sad Show,” it was chosen as one of the best three in the class, and I was able to attend a special writing conference with children from other schools.
It took me ten years to discover that what I had created was something called “fan fiction” and that I was far from the only one using characters from toys, cartoons and books to make my own stories. It took me another ten years to learn that those people who were lucky enough to be paid to create the official tales of licensed characters were called “tie in authors.” But it took very little time at all for me to recognize that telling stories in writing was not that different from acting out stories with my plastic figures.
Writing, at its best, is still play to me. I create a world and populate it with characters. I set up scenarios and let them play out, watching to see what my characters will do, how they will interact with one another, how they will face the challenges ahead of them, whether or not they will succeed, and what will happen to them then. My goal is to create a tale as compelling to my readers as the world of the little ponies was to me, long ago.*
(*Full disclosure time: Anyone with a collection of 300+ little ponies is still pretty darn compelled by that world.)