Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Story Inspirations: The Madman of Elkriahl

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"On tip-toes, she crept slowly into the cave.  Moonlight streamed down through an opening in the ceiling, casting shadows over the floor.  At first, she did not see the Madman, but as her eyes adjusted to the slight darkness, she saw him, standing in the shadows, quivering.
'It's alright,' she said softly, coming forward very slowly.  The Madman shifted slightly to his left, coming into the light.   He was wide-eyed, and breathless from his flight, and Gretta thought he looked frightened.  She opened her hands to show that she meant no harm, and carefully lifted a palm to his cheek..."

Salutations, my dear readers!  I'm back.  ;D

In these next few posts I want to talk about the inspirations behind each of the stories in my latest release.  I'll also go into the writing process a bit, as well as details such as alternate plots or deleted scenes.

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For me, the plot of a story often comes after title.  And in the instances when the plot comes first, it's really difficult for me to find a good name for the story.

With The Madman of Elkriahl there were a number of factors that contributed to the inspiratiton- but it really kicked in with the name.

It came to me on a chilly night in August.  I was home alone, lying sleepless around 1 AM due to an upset stomach.  Maybe it was the way I was moaning and groaning about it that first got my thoughts on this particular trail... but I suddenly began imagining the sound of echoing cries over a moonlit landscape.  As my stomach began to settle, I relaxed and followed this trail of thought, envisioning a restless, tossing sea, and a thick veil of fog settling over the landscape.  It was such a striking scene that I knew I had to write about it.  I wondered what the mysterious place might be called and began playing with syllables in my head.  After going through several letters of the alphabet and trying them with various pronunciations, I finally churned out "Elkriahl".  Ell-kree-AHL... yes, that sounded mysterious enough.  Dangerous too, come to think of it.

Then came the charactere.  The haunting cries I imagined came from a madman who wandered the wastelands.  Why was he mad?  And who had he once been, before the madness?  The Madman was one of the rare characters whom I could both see and hear, so I was very excited to get to work on him.

The main character, Gretta, followed shortly after.  With a character as strange as the Madman, I needed someone perfectly normal to balance him out.  But as the protagonist, she also needed to be her own person.  I didn't want her to be particularly special- at least not in the way that would make the whole town sing about her in curiosity (I'm looking at you, Belle!  Though I do love you...).  Instead, her beauty would be in her simplicity.  I did give her some distinguishing features, such as her talent for jewelry-crafting, and her love of children.  However, these things were to be understated, almost unremarkable, because it was her actions that I wanted to shine.

Looks-wise, Gretta was inspired loosely by John Howe's depiction of the peasant girl from The Rider from Triesen.  

After, that the whole story started falling together, and by morning I had the whole basic plot worked out, with only a few minor wrinkles to iron before writing process began.

I had just been re-reading a thick book of French fairy tales edited by Jack Zypes, so my mind was full of the formulas that made up the various plots of the more remarkable French tales.  As any fairy tale-lover knows, threes are a common and almost essential motif in the genre.  So, though I originally considered writing Madman as a fully-fledged novel, I quickly realized that the story, as I had conceived it, was a three-act tale that ran the risk of feeling stretched and thin if I drew it out for too long.  So instead of chapters, I divided the story into three sections with breaks between important scenes, and this method went well with the flow of the story.

This did, however, require me to abandon certain elements I had originally wished to include in the tale, including an extended deleted sequence in which Gretta grew ill on her journey, and had only the Madman to care for her.  It was a sweet, tender sequence which allowed her to be vulnerable yet strong, and for the Madman to pay her back for her kindness.  The scene was told largely from his perspective, which made it a challenging write, and I had the feeling that to see the story through his eyes might have taken away from the mystique of his character.

Now that the story is finished and published, I'm very glad I did it the way I did.  I have dreams of someday turning it into a musical, but that would be a big project.  If the desire still remains a few years from now, I may content myself to experimenting with turning into an expanded novel, almost like my own retelling.  Likely it would be solely for my own enjoyment, but time will tell.

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And now, I leave you with a beautiful piece of music that was influential to me during the writing of the opening scenes: Rock Island, 1931  by Thomas Newman, from Road to Perdition.

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-Emmarayn Redding

(DISCLAIMER:  Image of the peasant girl copyright John Howe.  Rock Island 1931 copyright Thomas Newman.  No copyright infringement intended.
The Journey Begins copyright Emmarayn Redding.  All rights reserved.)

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