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The Owl and the Dead Boy

Posted by nightphoenix on November 15, 2012 in Novels, Output, Process |

“Wow, Nightphoenix, you’ve been blathering on about Nightwish for three posts now. Isn’t this a bit excessive?”

Yes. It is.

And yet, and yet…right now all this fangirling is acting as creative fuel, which I am reluctant to put the brakes on. I’ve finished more drawings in four weeks than I have probably in the last year or so, you know? This makes me inclined to let the fire burn itself out (it will, trust me), and meanwhile…enjoy the ride and see what else comes of it.

Something really odd and unexpected already has.

Remember how I said, somewhere in all this NW mania, that I was re-working Mask of Eldermarch? I’ve done both a brief and detailed plot outline, and am currently in the middle of the scene-by-scene outline, after which I will start the actual writing. (Having said outline makes the writing go so much quicker).

It’s hard to describe how this story has evolved over time, since it’s taken a number of turns. Consider that I had a basic plot and set of characters for Mask before I’d even conceived of Shades. (Raphel was such a compelling character that he made me put down Mask and concentrate on his story. Egotistical bastard. I still love him for it. :))

In the very beginning, I had an uplifting early YA love story, lots of forest-y magic, no real heavy stuff. I had a world with an interesting but not real well-developed backstory. I had the Piper, who was like a masked version of Peter Pan (that’s exactly who he was in the dream that sparked this), and he had his owl companion. I had a sweet innocent female protagonist, Lily, who was going to find true love through her loyalty to something bigger than herself. Lily had her stalwart friend, rival love interest, and person-who-knows-stuff in the character of Dustin, and Dustin’s secret was the heart of everything. I had a conniving court villain who caused some trouble.

Well, you know, that’s still essentially the story I have. It just feels completely different.

I started by changing some names. The ones I had were too generic, and I wanted them to fit the world better.

The Piper became the Saa of Eldermarch. “Saa”, in the language of the Folk, can mean “breath”, “life”, or “song”, depending on the context in which it is used. When you talk about a person’s Saa, you refer to their entire life story: feelings, memories, every moment…all the individual notes that make up the grand song. You are your Saa, and your Saa is but a single movement in the great Saa all creation sings together.

The Saa of Eldermarch, then, is quite literally the avatar of the forest’s grand song. Vessel of all her power. The mask is the link between them.

I also gave the Piper/Saa a name to use: Auru. “Auru”, in the Folk tongue, just means “owl”. Each of the seven Forests was represented by a bird (that’s a new piece of lore), and Eldermarch’s is the owl (while that tidbit was there almost from the beginning).

Dustin became Kieran. It’s just a more exotic-sounding name, and a little softer on the tongue. It fits my quiet, competent rival better.

Benedict became Shturias. I actually did some tinkering on one of those name generator websites, creating rules for what I wanted the Folk tongue to sound like, and this was one of the names that came up. I needed something that sounded a bit more…devious. This is a name you could almost spit out of your mouth.

Metropolis/the City/I didn’t really have a name for it became Dell. I wanted something really simple and idyllic-sounding, which would contrast with the fact that it covers nearly the whole bloody planet and it destroyed six Forests in order to do so. It has also grown into a true metropolis, with 12 annexes which are further divided into 84 precincts. (Had to do some major word searching to avoid using the word “district”. Thank you, Hunger Games :P)

I’ve also woven the story of March (the name of the world) into my overarching cosmos: the Folk are native to March, while the Dellians blundered in through a Shallow some time in the misty past.

The only name that didn’t change was Lily’s…she’s essentially the same gal as before.

I also added a new character: Banen, the guy Lily was betrothed to before she ended up in the Forest. He was kind of there in the beginning, but I didn’t have any definite plan for him. Now I’ve worked him into a second villain, one who can play against Shturias.

While brainstorming on the backstory of this world a second time around, I realized I had to think of a real reason why the Dellians have not yet overrun Eldermarch. I had the vague notion that it was the oldest Forest, the most powerful, Dellian technology doesn’t work there, yada yada, but nothing concrete. I also had to think of a reason for the Saa of Eldermarch to seek a bride among Dellians that wasn’t Authorial Fiat Because That’s What Happened in the Original Dream.

I’ve found that when you have a whole bunch of little loose ends to resolve in a plot, the most efficient way to tie them all up is to tie them all up together. One big, underlying issue causing all the trouble. Thus, the idea of a Treaty between Dell and Eldermarch emerged.

I was also kind of inspired by the Hunger Games, in that instead of Lily knowingly following the owl into the Forest (and thereby voluntarily entering into this odd arrangement of being Consort to the Saa), I wanted Lily to be somewhat forced into this.

I already knew from my first brainstorming years ago that the most notable event in the struggle between the ever-expanding Dell and the dwindling Forests was the fall of Aeomarch, the Forest of Time. When the Dellians conquered Aeomarch, they were able to harness its magic and develop Holotech (which is something like teleportation, the ability to manipulate space and time). The downside to this is that Darkmarch’s Saa died in the war, and this messed up the balance between the Forest of Death and the rest of the world. They contained it, but even in Lily’s day, Darkmarch is an ever-expanding, hostile, dangerous place, its magic wild and unpredictable. The Dellians were frightened into making a deal to preserve last two remaining Forests: Greenmarch and Eldermarch. They honored this deal…by essentially building around Greenmarch, choking it off from the rest of March, which made it and its Saa essentially wither and die. Eldermarch’s Saa, in retaliation, created a curse and placed it on the Dellians: that either Eldermarch or Darkmarch should claim all their men. All Dellian boys are born with an urge to run off into Eldermarch; about half succumb. The ones who resist, die young. (This has had a major impact over time on Dell and its power structures).

But the Saa, maybe feeling this was a little harsh, then mitigated the Curse with a caveat. Every generation, the new Saa of Eldermarch would choose a girl from Dell to be his consort…and as long as she remained in Eldermarch with him, those born within her home annex would be free of the curse. This, over time, became known as the Treaty…and so far, both sides have honored it.

Neither side likes it. But neither side wants another war. Eldermarch, because the Folk know they would lose…and Dell, because they do not know what winning would cost them.

And anytime you add an element of madness to a story, it gets darker. The Curse really is nasty business. Think about it. Every single male (save the ones who are fortunate enough to be born in the chosen annex) will either run off into the Forest or die before they turn 30. Sometimes a rare Dellian male will break the Curse on himself by finding his way back out of Eldermarch…but this isn’t anything anyone counts on.

This is the situation into which Lily is thrust when she is chosen to be the one. This is the history Auru, the current Saa, is burdened with.

That was all well and good, but the greatest weakness Mask had, when I picked it up again, was that I simply could not pin down Auru, my Saa, as a character. I knew what I wanted for him, I knew what I needed him to do…but I didn’t know what he really wanted. To Lily, and to a greater extent to me, he was always this semi-childlike, mysterious, untouchable reluctant ruler.

So my driving question became: Who is Auru? It was one I was having the hardest bloody time answering.

Remember how I said the story that runs through Nightwish’s albums is too self-contained to fold into anything of mine? That was never to say I didn’t want to. I had actually imagined writing a story based loosely on the journey of the Dead Boy, or at least work those themes into an idea already sitting in my queue.

Not long after the NW concert, I was sitting at my computer, listening to music and looking for more songs to add to my Mask of Eldermarch playlist. I noticed that I’d already put Escapist in there, probably because of Lily feeling trapped, etc. I hit play.

The first scene I imagined for the Mask of Eldermarch went something like this: Lily is in her room at night, when she hears tapping on her window. It’s the Piper’s Owl, and she knows this means she’s been chosen. She follows the owl into the night and meets the Piper himself, essentially a masked Peter Pan. Given the direction the story has taken with the Treaty, this isn’t a scene I can use anymore…but it’s still kind of there at the center of things. It’s what the story feels like, at its heart. A journey into the unknown.

This is on my mind as Escapist starts up. I really like the mood of this song, and am thinking it fits the overall darker direction the story is going. And then:

“who’s there knocking at my window
the owl and the dead boy
this night whispers my name
all the dying children”

*cue Nightphoenix falling off the couch*

That. Is. That. Scene.

And with the addition of the Treaty and the idea of boys either dying or being lost…

I listened to the rest of the song and the rest all just hit like a lightning bolt to the head.

Nightwish- Escapist

Reluctant ruler of the last wilderness. Plays the flute= songwriter. Musician. Mysterious and sad. A dreamer hemmed in by the world.

Peter Pan.

The owl.

Auru is the Dead Boy.

I’d been trying so hard to decide which story I could drop some NW-esque themes into…and I’d already done it on a completely unconscious level. Ha! So it was leaking into my writing.

Obviously there are differences. But the things is, I’ve been listening to NW for years, and pretty extensively for weeks now. I am quite familiar with the Dead Boy…in a way that I never was with my Saa.

But now suddenly I have a set of strengths and, more importantly, flaws to work with in refining Auru.

“I’m a puppet on this silent stage show.
I’m but a poet who failed his best play.
A Dead Boy, who failed to write an ending to each of his poems.”

“a nightingale in a golden cage
that’s me locked inside reality’s maze”

“blame me, it’s me
coward, good for nothing scapegoat
dumb kid, living a dream
romantic only on paper”

“sing what you can’t say
forget what you can’t play”

“get away, run away, fly away
lead me astray to dreamer’s hideaway”

“you told I had the eyes of the wolf
search them and find the beauty of the beast”

“so much more I wanted to give to the ones who love me…I’m sorry”

I can combine the idea of a reluctant ruler with an escapist and get a struggling character who’d love nothing more than to go back to the days where he didn’t have to care about anything, where he wasn’t responsible for the last of his people and the last Forest…where he wasn’t failing everyone he loves, but who feels he can’t give up.

“You bastards
tainted my tool
raped my words, played me a fool.
gather your precious glitter and leave me be
the Great Ones are all dead
and I’m tired, too

I truly hate you all!”

His innocence and escapism become both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness. On one hand, nothing can touch his childlike belief that there can be peace between Eldermarch and Dell, and he’ll need that. (Because no one else believes it.) He loves deep and feels everything very strongly, which makes him loyal and empathic and someone Lily can trip and fall head over heels for.

On the other hand…he disappears at odd times. He won’t talk about things, and he shuts down when you push him. He won’t ever tell you how he really feels about something. Backs down too easily (though he never gives up). He feels everything so strongly that it can distract him from important things…and it also makes him particularly easy to wound.

My villains are going to have a field day with that 😛

And now, knowing all this, I’ve got a whole toolbox of symbols I can play with in creating little details for this story. Snow wolves. The Folk festival of Winter Night. I’m thinking of making Lily someone who likes to sing so I can weave a little Phantom of the Opera dynamic into her and Auru’s relationship. Banen has to be a villain worthy to be on the receiving end of Slaying the Dreamer. The relationship between Auru and Eldermarch herself can take on some of the characteristics of White Night Fantasy:

“I hunt this song to the white
through the shroud of snow I saw paradise
peace, no more lies

Crestfallen soul
rest for this night
love is here
right here under my wings

I dream of wolves
with them I run
for me she lengthened the night
I am home
I am in peace”

See? All you have to do is make your obsession useful.

This is essentially where I’m at right now. As I said, I’ve still got Last Ride of the Day and my secret project on my plate, plus an intention to do a couple more NW song-as-picture pieces. (I’m thinking Ocean Soul and Turn Loose the Mermaids).

I’m also planning to do The Poet and the Pendulum…but I’ve already gone through three compositions and just haven’t found the one that works yet. Really hard to strike the right balance between beauty and macabre (especially with that dark of a song). So I’m taking it slow.

And hopefully, in the next few days, I will start the first draft of Mask of Eldermarch.

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