Beneath the Starlit Sea Hype Week: How Fanfiction and Pop Culture Inspired My Creative Journey
I was one of those people who didn’t like Harry Potter.
There, I said it. Right from the moment it first came out, it was the reason I presumed I didn’t enjoy fantasy novels. However, it didn’t take long before I realized why I didn’t like it—there wasn’t enough romance in the plot for it to grab and take hold of me.
Like so many other young writers, I was both horrified at this realization, and inspired by it. Therefore, I did what came naturally to me at that age, and I wrote fanfiction about Harry with my own featured character, centralizing the romance story that took place at the Hogwarts in my head. In fact, if you dig really hard, you can still find that story posted on FanFiction.Net, though I’ll never reveal my username, and also likely never tell you if you’ve found the right story.
I do periodically peek back on it when I’m feeling disheartened by the writing process, though, just to affirm for myself how far I’ve come since those days. My writing style has become more fluent and improved, my characters are typically more original, and the plots centralize around an actual conflict instead of kissing.
Well, at least most of the time.
But that’s because one thing hasn’t changed. I still enjoy writing a story with a solid romance. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but that’s the reason I stick around for so many novels and serial stories. I need to know how the romance plays out, and I need to get that rush from the characters achieving their happily ever after (or happily for now).
After writing Harry Potter fanfiction for a little while, I dropped the idea of ever writing a full-length book. I’m not entirely certain what the reason was behind this, but soon my duotangs and folders filled with story ideas and mock-up covers vanished. Maybe it had something to do with my preoccupation for a real-life romance like the one I had created in my own fiction and read about in books. Or maybe, that’s just part of growing up and ascertaining interests.
Either way, years later, I ended up coming back to the idea of writing a full novel. However, this time I was fully inspired by season one of Riverdale. I fell in love with Archie and Jughead (okay, mostly just Archie) as characters, the mysterious plotline, and the drama. Completely engrossed in the idea that I would be able to make the plot align more with my interests after season two released, I wrote my very first full-length novel, posting it to Wattpad for actionable feedback, to share with new writing contacts, and for motivation to continue trying the new story ideas piling up in my head.
However, for some reason, that Harry Potter fanfiction stuck to my brain like glue.
It wasn’t until I discovered The Witcher (in particular, The Witcher 3 game) that I realized what I had been doing. I was truly inspired and in awe of these worlds and these stories that others were creating, and I enjoyed putting my own spin on them and making them feel more personal. In fact, with The Witcher 3, I bought a PlayStation 4 just to play the game… but first I had to teach myself to use it without looking down at the controller every three seconds. As my hand-eye coordination improved, I fell more and more in love with the story of Geralt and Yennefer and Triss and all the other characters in the game, but I desperately craved a version that focused more heavily on the romance rather than the monster-killing.
That’s when I wrote Beneath the Starlit Sea.
Originally starting out as a novel between Geralt and Yennefer but from Yen’s perspective, Beneath the Starlit Sea soon morphed into an entirely different story, featuring murder, mayhem, sea creatures, love, freedom, and so much more. As I developed the character of Yen, she quickly became the personality of Illyse, focusing her freedom and her existence on things that Yennefer might not have found as important.
Beneath the Starlit Sea was my love letter to fantasy romance, featuring all the things I grew up loving and had wanted to see in the novels I was reading, despite it ending up being for an older audience. I think it just reflected the headspace I was in when I wrote it, my personal interests, and the development of the characters. I wanted to write a quick read, a pretty story, and build an atmosphere that I could feel lost inside, even when I was struggling to find myself.
Plus, some problems were both solved and created by kissing in the storyline, which amused me and felt apt when I looked back on my other fanfiction and pop culture inspirations.
So, even though I grew up being that kid who didn’t want to go to Hogwarts someday (too many scary things happening there!), it was ultimately the series that brought out my inner writer, encouraging me to meet my own expectations for what kinds of novels I’d enjoy reading: lush worldbuilding, deep emotions, and a little bit of magic thrown in, too. And now, my duotangs and folders of years past have changed into a trillion notebooks and probably forty-five Word documents and seven thousand saved Discord chats with friends from all over the world, all filled with wonder and fantasy and ideas I may never have time to write.
But that’s a wonderful thing about inspiration; you can find it almost anywhere. Even in between the pages of something that you want to alter.