My Current Work: The Fifth Life

The Fifth Life

My main goal for this blog is to start sharing my stories and my writing process. I am in no way a professional, and I am still learning even some of the most basic of writing do’s and don’ts, but I feel like that is the perfect time to be sharing with other writers. It is important to have a community of like-minded people, groups who equally enjoy the written word. I’d like to share my writing and story development to get it out into the world and receive constructive feedback, but mostly to share my journey as a writer in the hopes that other writers will also want to share writing advice and exchange encouragement.

My first post in relation to my writing is an introduction to a passion project I have been working on for several years now. While I won’t share everything about the story here (just to be safe…not that I don’t trust you…but how can I trust you, I barely know you)(points to you if you know where that quote comes from in the world of YA…), I would like to share how this little story came to be, and why, despite so many years and so, so many changes, I have never given up on The Fifth Life.

The origins of The Fifth Life (which is still a tentative title) are a bit funny, actually. The basic premise of the story started out as fan-fiction. Yes, I took part in that wild little genre of storytelling, on a website dedicated to David Archuleta (you’ll learn more about my experience as a David fangirl in a couple weeks). My fanfic writing experience was amazing–I was getting such awesome feedback, and people were actually praising my writing, getting excited about reading a story update from me. It was extremely encouraging, and it inspired me to start crafting stories of my own instead of using an established person and his background as a basis for the story.

This is where the idea came in. I decided to craft a story that featured David as one of the characters (along with some of the other popular teen stars of 2008…Selena Gomez, what up), but which was an original story and not something related to David and his career. The idea sprouted and started to take off, and I was so excited to share this new work with the community on that little website.

My stories had all had some dark, sad element, and this one was no different. We’ve all had that question at some point in our lives of ‘What happens to us after we die?’. At some point I had this thought, and instead of dwelling on it too much in my own life (because that can get complicated and weird), I wondered how I could answer this question in a story. And so came The Fifth Life.

At the time, though, the story was called The Ninth Life. There were nine–yes, nine–teenage main characters. The main character was a 17-year-old boy named Alex (pictured as Mr. Archuleta at the time). He had a ‘love interest’ by the name of Lindsey (Miss Gomez). And Alex and the rest of the main nine were all deceased from the very beginning of the story.

I had all of these plans outlined for the story. I had very detailed profiles of the characters’ appearances and personalities. I was working hard to build up their little afterlife world. Everything was coming together very nicely, and I was very happy with the story I had planned. I did start to get stuck though, and as the visits to the website started to decrease, I decided to set the story aside for a moment and focus on other ideas.

When I started college, I entered the Honors Program at my school. One of the requirements for the program was a senior thesis project, and one of the suggested options was to write the beginnings of a novel. I was really starting to dive into my passion for writing and study the craft, so I thought this would be the perfect way to incorporate it in my education. And for some reason, I came back around to The Ninth Life. I still had the majority of the ideas written and stored away, the basic outline of the story figured out. So I decided to change up the characters, more fully develop the story, and focus on what was now titled The Fifth Life as my first fully developed novel.

I have been working on The Fifth Life since then, about my sophomore year of college. At this point, there have been MANY changes to the characters and the story itself. The main character is now 17-year-old Jordan Daniels. The ‘love interest’ is still sort of the love interest, but I’m trying to shy away from that, expanding her backstory and letting her stand on her own. She now goes by the name of Lexie. The nine main characters have been reduced to a group of five, rounded out by Shane, Brenna, and Lucas. So basically they had a bunch of identity crises and transformed into who they were actually supposed to be. Characters, am I right??

I feel like this story has taught me how to truly think of myself as a writer. I have spent so many years on this story, and there have been numerous times when I felt that it was never going to be good enough, that I had spent far too much time changing up the story line and developing the characters. But I have always come back to the story. I have never been able to let go of Jordan and Lexie and the others, and the story they need to tell. And what I have learned from other authors–and even from myself as I move forward–is that everyone has those moments of doubt. Every writer will inevitably question themselves, wonder if their story is worth sharing. But it is worth sharing. Write to learn. Write to understand what you need to say, what your characters need to say.

So I continue to work on this little story that could. I have no intention of giving up on Jordan. If it takes me five months or five years, I intend to put the work in to this story and to share it with the world when it is good and ready. For now, I go on the journey of writing with this project and others, and I share the process in the hopes that another writer can relate.

I will leave you with a short excerpt from The Fifth Life. This is one of the early chapters in the story, in which Jordan attempts to make sense of his surroundings in his new afterlife world, known to the others as Gray Haven.

I keep running and running, snow smashing softly under my feet. The breeze moves by me with a heavy pound, but it’s not cold enough. I want to feel it more. The air has that feeling of heavy moisture, like it’s weighing down on me and the woods around me. I look behind me to make sure none of them are following me, and I find the fog growing thicker, like it’s chasing me down. I vow not to look back again.

Everything is white or gray and just plain dull, and my head hurts as I try to adjust to the lack of color. I’m desperate to see something different, but there are just trees and snow and that damn house right in the middle. It gets harder to see through the fog, and I try to keep my focus on navigating through the trees, if only to distract me from how lost I feel.

I want to feel some kind of pain or pressure in my lungs. I want to run as far away from here as I possibly can, but I want it to feel like I’m actually running. I can’t feel that rush of adrenaline that comes with so much movement. It scares me, even angers me that I can’t find a normal sensation within or around me.

The sky is endless. It just stretches in every single direction. It’s the palest gray I’ve ever seen, and though it looks like it wants to rain or snow, there seems to be some force prohibiting it. Gray skies like this hang over the mountains all the time back home, but it’s different somehow. This seems too close, threatening to crash down. I look around me as I press forward, squinting at the dullness that consumes me.

It feels like an incredibly long time goes by as I run, although there’s no way to tell without a sign or some shift in the strange world around me. I’m not tired. I’m not breathless or sore. I’m just here. And the simple fact that I want to be anywhere but here is what keeps pushing me to run. That, and the fact that I can’t seem to get away from the cabin.

The cabin. I suddenly realize that I’m in front of the cabin…again. I’ve seen the blurred front window, the antique furniture on the front porch, and the large bay window on the second floor too many times. I should have gotten much further away from it. I slow my pace, keeping an eye on the house. I go through the mess of trees once more, coming around the back of the house, and I start to feel encouraged when I can’t see it through the branches.

But then suddenly, I’m out front again. Lexie is sitting on the porch railing now, shaking her head, while the others stand further away, staring as if this is nothing new.

I turn away from them, letting out a long, slow breath just for the sake of hearing it. Everything is endless, a circle of nothing. The silence is heavy. It’s more quiet than I ever thought possible. It is only broken when a heavier breeze creeps in, coming from behind me and pushing against me with more force than any wind I’ve ever felt.

Suddenly, there are sounds. All around me there are far-away noises, as if from another time and place entirely. The wind carries the voices of my mom, pleading with me and firmly reprimanding my brother; Mason himself, screaming unintelligible slurs in a forceful, booming tone; and my own voice, at first laced with terror and the onset of tears, and then broken and drifting until it’s overridden. There’s shattering glass and horrible thuds, everything falling apart.

I stagger backward in the snow. I can see bits and pieces of the scene: Mason and his overpowering glare and stature; the haunting familiarity of my house; and a red stain of blood on the floor. It’s too much, and yet it’s not enough. I can’t paint the full picture. All I can decipher is that something happened between me and my brother, but I can’t even consider that he could have somehow done something that landed me here.

The sounds get louder. Everything is jumbled together, burying the sharpness of the voices deep within me. It’s painful, but not a normal kind of pain. This feels hopeless. There’s no escape, no explanation, and seemingly no reason to fight it.

I back up against a tree, sliding down to the ground. I shake my head back and forth, as if that will get rid of the noises. I press my palms forcefully against my ears. I want this to stop. I want to hear nothing, to feel nothing. But it just keeps coming. It feels like everything is closing in. I press my hands harder to my head, squeezing my eyes shut. I hear Lexie, trying to pull me back like she knows exactly what’s happening. But as scary as this sudden force is, I don’t want to go back to her and the other kids. I don’t want to deal with them, to come in to whatever crazy world they’ve created and pretend like I trust them. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I want somewhere to go, and something to be. But I have nothing. I open my mouth to let out a frustrated, desperate scream. Whether or not I make any sound at all, I can’t even tell. 

***

-Chelsy

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