Sunday, August 21, 2011

More on Writing

I've been paying attention to how I wrote the current story, currently titled Kormak the Lucky.

It starts with an incident from the Egils saga: as an old man, Egil decides to hide two chests of silver so his son won't inherit them. He's eighty and blind, so he needs help. He takes two slaves with him to carry the silver and they go somewhere and hide the silver. Then Egil kills the slaves, so they can never tell where the silver is hidden. A remarkable achievement for an old, blind man, but hard on the slaves.

I have had an idea -- or image -- for some time. One of the slaves escapes, because an elf opens a door in a cliff and beckons him in. Egil can't see this, of course, and assumes that the slave has fallen in the crevice where the silver has been hidden.

So that is the start of the story: an incident from a saga and an image.

Then I had to figure out the rest of the story. My slave is Irish, as many Icelandic slaves were. I decided I want him to make it home to Ireland. But how? Well, he is underground in Elfland. Maybe there is an underground route to Ireland. So I take him through the country of the light elves, who are the elves of Icelandic folklore, and then through the land of the dark elves, who are mentioned in Snorri Sturlason's Prose Edda, but nowhere else. They may be dwarves, but we don't know for sure. So I can make up everything about them.

At that point, in the land of the dark elves, two things suddenly appeared in the story: one is an magical iron dog, who just walked out of the shadows. I didn't think I needed the dog and tried to get rid of him, but he was too interesting. He felt right. In the end, he stayed.

(I don't believe in talking about my characters as if they have wills of their own. They don't. However, my writing is not entirely a rational process. Sometimes images or ideas seem to come from nowhere, though I assume they come from somewhere in my mind.)

The next thing that came into the story was Volund the Smith, who appears in the Poetic Edda and also in Anglo-Saxon poetry and (I think) medieval German literature. It's a nasty story about violence and revenge. Since Volund is described as an "elf prince" in the Edda, he sort of fits in. I had a character tell it, to explain the iron dog, and then I extended the story of Volund, making it part of my hero's story, which ends in the land of the Irish fey and then -- finally -- in human Ireland.

I'm not going to add more detail. I hope to sell the story. You can read it then.

However, the point -- if there is one -- is that part of the story was rationally worked out; how to get my hero from the land of the Icelandic elves to Ireland was a rational problem: and part of it was intuitive: the original image of the door into Elfland, the iron dog and Volund.

There was no beginning-to-end plot. This particular story was made up as I went along, which means it's a picaresque journey. (If you make stuff up as you go along, you are likely to get a picaresque journey.) Of course, I had to go back and revise earlier parts, so they fit with the later parts.

This is the fourth story I have written that is based on Icelandic sagas or folklore. For some reason, they are all dark stories: three of the four spend a lot of time underground. I think they'd make a nice chapbook, titled The Hidden Folk, which is the Icelandic term for elves, although my stories are also about trolls, the devil and the undead.


Blogger Tallgeese said...

"About Trolls, the Devil, and the Undead" would also make a pretty good title for a collection.

11:35 AM  

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