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Hannah Kuduk

United States

Relatability

January 29, 2016

FREE WRITING

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        I’ve never particularly liked Disney Princesses. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate a fancy gown with somewhere to wear it or a dark-haired prince every now and then, because let’s be honest, I’d be the last person to shy away from frivolity. In reality, it has always been second nature for me to wish upon stars and dream of my own "happily ever after", so for most of my life, I could not pinpoint the reason why I never connected with the beautiful and wholesome girls in the rags-to-riches fairytales. At a certain point in my young life, not only did all of the girls my age worship the princesses, but they wanted to be them. Meanwhile, even though I was the type who liked to dress up and play with my mom's makeup, nothing about the Disney Princesses struck me as special. They were definitely not anything I aspired to become, because back then, they were merely bland characters with whom I, confusingly enough for a little girl, did not relate to. As real life never seems to unfold exactly how we'd expect it to, maybe it was the predictability of the Disney princess stories that made them feel inauthentic to me. Regardless, looking back as an eighteen year old, I realize that my distaste for the princesses runs much deeper, and that what I thought was simply an aversion is actually a window into myself as a writer, a reader, and a person.

    By the time I passed the age of ball gowns, and singsong woodland creatures, whenever I re-watched one of the classic princess movies on a VHS tape in our basement, two things would become abundantly clear to me. One: I did not grow to appreciate the stories more with time, nor did I look back on them with fond childhood memories.Two: The reason I didn't care for the princesses is because I could not see myself in them. To put it simply, I've always believed that the best characters (whether hero, villain or somewhere in between) are the ones who can be empathized with. For me, the true magic is when I can relate to someone real and vulnerable who bears everything that makes them human. In both characters and people alike, what I yearn for (but did not get from the Disney princesses) is awkwardness, chaos, a happy ending with a twist, and most of all, authenticity. This innate principle has always been part of my personality, and it would soon become the most important part of my storytelling as an aspiring writer.

    I am always surprised when I hear people say that they did not like to read as a child, because I do not remember a time in which I didn’t. Before age four, when no one was available to read to me, I resorted to “reading” to myself— also known as retelling the stories aloud to myself, or making up new ones to go along with the pictures. This, perhaps, was my first experience with storytelling.

    Although I loved them, I had a tendency to become silently frustrated with my books, much like I had become frustrated with the Disney princesses. When a book was not written exactly to my liking, or I had a story in my mind that I wished someone had thought to write, I put down my books and picked up a pencil. As you have likely guessed, this is why I started writing.

    Mark Twain once said to “write what you know”, and for a very long time, this was the principle I followed in my own writing. After discovering my love for YA contemporary fiction within the colorful pages of a Scholastic Book Fair catalog, I, like most beginning writers do, tended toward imitating the styles of some of my favorite YA authors. I wanted to write a story that would make an impact, just like their stories had impacted me. I wanted the story to be perfect. There were long nights, staring at the screen of my giant 90’s era computer monitor, watching the cursor blink in annoyingly perfect rhythm. I would write a single sentence, only to delete and retype the same thing over again in a cycle of self-doubt. I'd give up on what I was working on for a while, breathing books in like air and wondering why nothing I wrote would ever be as good as this or that. As each day rolled into the next, “writing what I know” had somehow turned into a high standard. I was supposed to love writing, so I didn't understand why it felt like so much pressure.

    One day, I began thinking about the Disney Princess stories. I thought about how I had always viewed them as inauthentic because the fairytale-esque, do-no-wrong brand of princess did not seem attainable in reality. What I realized then, is that while I was doubting and comparing my writing, I had been trying to reach an unreachable bar that I had set for myself. I was essentially “Disney Princess-ing” myself. Somewhere along the way, I had forgotten that from the beginning, what I always craved was authenticity, not perfection. With that mentality, it's no surprise that I was failing at “writing what I know”. It's not possible for anyone–even my favorite authors– to know perfection. What I know is falling down and picking myself up again. I know quirks, awkward moments, and plentiful emotions. I know full belly laughs, and apologies, and leaps of faith. So, I came to the conclusion that I never will want to write a perfect story in which every detail fits together like pieces to a puzzle because in reality, perfection of that sort does not exist, and it is the messiness of life that makes a story relatable to an audience.

    My simple hope is that someday, someone will pick up a book with my name on it and inside, find something they didn’t even know they had been looking for. I know from experience that true magic is when someone has put words to a feeling that you've never known how to define. I want to be that someone.

 

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