Every time a writer sits down to create a story they face a multitude of choices. Since stories don’t exist in a vacuum, all of those choices add up to make meaning–whether the writer intends that meaning or not. Our world influences our narratives, and our narratives influence our world. Who we choose to present and how we present them matters. Just ask any member of a minority group.
For example: I wanted to write a story about Robin Hood. For a long time I didn’t really understand why I wanted to write that story. There were a few obvious reasons, mainly the fact that running around in the woods with a group of friends sticking it to the Man sounds awesome, but it took several years (I’ve been working on this book for far too long) for me to realize that the reason Robin Hood retellings are still popular and pervasive is because greed hasn’t changed since the Middle Ages, and neither have power dynamics. A select few people have all the money and power, and the rest of us struggle to get by and go after each other instead of facing the real problem. (Although we do have antibiotics and vaccines, for which I am eternally grateful)
I wanted to address the main problem I have always had with so many Robin Hood narratives: the return of the rightful king.
Once I realized that, I knew I had to think carefully about the choices I was making as a writer. First, I had to decide where to set Nottingham. Did I want to stick to historical facts, or did I want to take a leap of fancy and place my characters on a less well-trodden stage? I decided to take a more historical route after several rewrites and a lot of reading, because I discovered that I wanted to address the main problem I have always had with so many Robin Hood narratives: the return of the rightful king.
Richard the Lionhearted and his brother, John, were both problematic rulers. Richard only spent a handful of days on English soil during his entire reign, not to mention the blood he spilled on his crusade, and John was a cunning man with an unpredictable mean streak who did, at least, spend time in his country, even if his people may have wished otherwise. The idea that good King Richard might return from crusade and pardon an outlaw or save his people from his brother’s greed is ludicrous and a twist that, unsurprisingly, was added later by people who wanted to believe in the rightness of authority and the divine right to rule. I had zero interest in furthering that particular load of cow droppings. Government is not inherently good, and it is not going to save us unless we make it.
History is full of powerful women and gender-non-conforming folk
I was also interested in how women and others who did not conform to societal standards operated within the existing power structures. History is full of powerful women and gender-non-conforming folk, and I like seeing my people reflected in historical narratives instead of getting written out. I knew I wanted Robin Hood to be a woman in my story, hence the change of the spelling to the feminine Robyn, but that wasn’t enough. Why did it matter that she was a woman? What would drive a woman into the forest that would make the story original, and more importantly, why would she choose to stay in the woods? If you’ve read some of my work, you can probably guess part of the answer: my Robyn is a lesbian, and if she were around today, she would definitely wear flannel and know how to use a chainsaw. As for the rest, you’ll have to read it to find out.
The book isn’t finished, yet, and so much could still change, but as of right now the writing choices I’ve made–like choosing to set this novel in the 12th century–have shown me more about the world we live in today than I could have guessed. Unfortunately, I can’t run away to the woods and start a separatist society* that steals from the 1%, but I can offer an argument for the power of story in the hopes that if we keep changing the narrative, we will one day change the world for the better, instead of perpetuating the same old Big Bads and little evils.
*I reserve the right to change my mind about this