Monday, December 31, 2018

Plotting "The Flame of the Sea"

Epic-length historic adventures, especially about an age steeped in its own culture and mythology, such as that of the medieval Vikings, is a challenging, but rewarding, undertaking for a writer.

Part of the challenge is that which is common to all writers, regardless of genre: crafting an intriguing, suspenseful story with interesting and believable characters who live in a setting that seems both natural and authentic.

Beyond these challenges, however, writers of period pieces also face the daunting demand of getting the details right about beliefs, customs, folkways, traditions, and, of course, historical facts. A ton of research is required, and much skill is needed to weave this information into one's tale unobtrusively and naturally. It's one of the reasons I enjoyed writing The Flame of the Sea.

I was fortunate to have made the acquaintance of Vladimir Propp's Morphology of the Folktale, in which the Soviet scholar analyzes and illustrates the structure common to Russian folktales, a structure that is also appropriate to the sort of epic quest that my hero, Eric Bloodaxe, undertakes in The Flame of the Sea, to avenge his late father's honor (and to recover the treasure his father had found).

According to Propp, 31 dramatic situations, or "functions," occur following a story's setup, or "initial situation." Although a particular tale may omit one or more of these functions, those that are presented will occur in the sequence Propp identifies.

For example, following the initial situation, an absentation usually occurs, in which the hero or a  member of his or her family leaves home. In The Flame of the Sea, this situation occurs when Eric's father dies.

Following the absentation, an interdiction occurs, as the hero is forbidden or warned against taking some action. In my novel, both of Eric's parents extract the promise from him to forego the quest he plans to regain his father's honor.

This situation leads to the next function, the violation of the interdiction, as the hero disregards the interdiction and acts as planned. Eric undertakes his quest.

During the reconnaissance, the villain seeks the intelligence he or she needs to accomplish his or her own plan. In The Flame of the Sea, a merchant supplies Eric with the provisions he needs, free of charge, as he and his son seek to discern Eric's destination and the purpose of his quest.

The Flame of the Sea includes most of the functions identified and explained by Propp, which gives the saga unity, coherence, and a tight, well-defined structure--something sorely needed in a lengthy adventure employing a somewhat episodic plot.

Thank you, Mr. Propp, for your insightful study, Morphology of the Folktale.

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