Sunday, 10 July 2011

Writing a hero's past: formative moments

Yesterday I wrote about using flash fiction to delve into a character's past. I wanted to get to know my hero better, understand his motivations and formative moments so I can hone his voice and get more authenticity in his scenes. David A Ludwig described this akin to dialectical journalling, a technique of which I had never heard.

In my work in progress Merely Players, Ghis (one of the two main protagonists) has been very influenced by his relationship with his parents and her subsequent death. This scene marks the "dark moment" in his relationship with his father which led to their ultimate enstrangement:

His breath steamed the bulbous, green-tinged glass, masking the sweeping driveway from his view. The great house was terrifyingly still, as though the servants were gliding spectres in its austere corridors, their hushed tones whispering through the shadows. Ghislain knew why, knew that a curse had been carried to Aysford Hall by one his father’s silk-clad guests. Embracing the woman, his mother had breathed in pestilence masked by a cloud of perfume and now the fever was killing her in a huddle of sweat-soaked sheets and laudanum. His father it had passed by, as though the Marquess had been daubed in lamb’s blood and pronounced one of God’s own.

The angel of death was here sliding along the darkened doorways its pale hands extending to grasp his mother’s fragile soul. Even now the physician sliced his mother’s delicate blue vein and let her precious blood drip into a bowl muzzling her intelligence with sickly-sweet opiates. Tears stung Ghis' eyes and he dashed them away, skin hot with mortification. What kind of son left his mother to face that alone?

Turning, he ran up the stairs two at a time, his blood hammering in his ears. The door was ajar, candlelight casting a dull golden finger across the shadowed corridor. He lifted his shaking hands to the polished wood, pushed the door open.

A hand gripped his shoulder, pincer hard. “What do you think you’re doing?”
The words were cannon fire, a harsh boom echoing in the still air. Without looking, he knew that his father’s face would be mottled with anger, his cheeks solid slabs of red beef. “I told you, you’re forbidden from entering your mother’s chamber.”

“Let me go!” He tried to squirm away, held pinioned like a butterfly under glass by his noble father’s implacable strength. The stench of brandy, horses and raw earth overwhelmed him; his father’s smell, born of the ancient earth of this aristocratic tomb. “I want to see her.”

“And I told you that you could not. She hasn’t the strength for your nonsense, boy. She needs rest.”

“She needs me!” He could barely see his father’s eyes, deep-set and hooded as they were, shadowed by eyebrows as ominous as a gathering storm. He caught a glimpse of darkness, flat and hard as granite. The Marquess’ lips thinned and twisted, grim as death itself.
“Godsteeth, boy! I swear I’ll whip your insolence from you. You will obey me. Be gone from here, lest I have you locked away.”

A faint moan froze them both in a stricken tableau. Then he stumbled as father released him, pushing away from the door. “Get gone, Ghislain. Say prayers for your mother if you must, compose some damned milksop verse if it pleases you but stay away from this room. Am I understood?”

Their eyes met. Injustice swelled in his throat, a burning coal, choking him. Hatred burned his stomach.

“Am I understood?” The roar rolled across the stricken household, a thunderclap tearing the clinging air.

“Yes sir.” Ghislain left his mother to die.


Andrea said...

This gives such a thoughtful insight to Ghis's background. Really well done!

Meg McNulty said...

Thank you! He's about fourteen in his piece. I've jut finished the last piece, which I think shows his disenchantment with Ana and also how he has become more cynical. It's been helpful in shaping him - I've just gone back and rewritten the first scene between Ghis and Sarah in the light of what I understand about him now.

David A Ludwig said...

Wow, I love how you describe what his father smells like. That's a powerful character that can have so many smells associated with them, and one that could be very ghost-like in their scent's ability to haunt places long after they themselves have left.
This has me really curious to read the larger story these flashes are connected to.

Meg McNulty said...

@David - thanks! It's a historical romance, so might not be your cup of tea (though it is a bit of an atypical one). It's on about its 7th revision now!

David A Ludwig said...

Neither historical nor romance are genres I typically go for--but I consider quality of writing far more important than genre and yours seems to be up to the standard that I wouldn't be disappointed even outside my normal genre.