Deconstructing Fiction (For Writers and Readers): Excerpt Deconstructed (7)

This is the seventh in a series of articles in which author Steven Erikson deconstructs, paragraph by paragraph, an excerpt from his most recent novel Forge of Darkness.


Steven EriksonThere were other corpses. A man and a woman, their backs cut and stabbed as they sought to hold their bodies protectively over those children they could reach, not that it had helped, since those children had been dragged out and killed. A dog, lying half cut in two just above the hips, the hind limbs lying one way, the fore limbs and head the opposite way. Its eyes, too, were flat.

Badly written clause, highlighted here, and obviously something I need to fix in the revision. This paragraph elaborates on details of the scene, but still within a human context (mother, father, children), emphasizing once again the brutality of the murders. Connecting the flat eyes of the dog to that of the child points to the dehumanizing necessary to kill, but also raises the disturbing query of what’s the difference between child and dog, “human” and animal?

When traveling through the forest, Kadaspala was in the habit of leaving the main track, of finding these lesser paths that took him through small camps such as this one. He had shared meals with the quiet forest people, with the Deniers although they denied nothing of value that he could see. They lived in familiarity and in love, and wry percipience and wise humility, and they made art that took Kadaspala’s breath away.

This offers K’s relationship with these people, moving us back to a personal context, though for K that context is still one of art. But we’ve begun the return journey to K as a person, a feeling entity, and this is important for what is to come in this section. It also provides more details on the Deniers, humanizing them as well.

The figurines, the masks, the beadwork – all lost in the burnt huts now.

How violence destroys beauty. This foreshadows a major scene with K later in the novel.

Someone had carved a wavy line on the chest of the dead boy. It seemed that worship of the river god was a death sentence now.

Cultural context reinforced.

He would not bury these dead. He would leave them lying where they were. Offered to the earth and the small scavengers that would take them away, bit by bit, until the fading of flesh and memory were one.

This points to K’s understanding of these forest people, as integral parts of nature.

He painted with his fingers, setting in his mind where all the bodies were lying in relation to one another; and the huts and the dead dog, and how the sun’s light struggled through the smoke to make every detail scream.

Through his painting gesture, we get a summary of the salient details, but in an emotionless tone, a running through of a shopping list, all of which leads up to underscore the emotional impact of the last word in the paragraph. Juxtaposition on an emotional level can be very effective.

Then, kicking his mule forward, he watched as the beast daintily stepped over the boy’s body, and for the briefest of moment hid every detail in shadow.

This seems a small detail, a simple description which sets him moving again, but it is crucial. On the one hand, the arrival of shadow foreshadows later events in the novel and in the series (especially regarding the Deniers), and on the other hand, it thematically leads us into the next train of thoughts, as K considers the hiding/disguising effect of the loss of light. Backing up, consider the use of the word “daintily” and give some thought to the emotion it registers in you, the reader. It is delicate, and anthropomorphic, which is fine because K is watching it (POV again). What if I had elected something else here? The animal roughly stepping on the body or kicking it carelessly. A whole different emotional context would be established here, one that would demand some kind of response from K: would he beat his mount for its indifference? How does that fit with K’s character? It doesn’t, so here, to avoid complications that I feel are problematic, I use the language to smooth the transition.

In the world of night promised by Mother Dark, so much would remain forever unseen. He began to wonder if that would be a mercy. He began to wonder if this was the secret of her promised blessing to all her believers, her children. Darkness now and forever more. So we can get on with things.

Welcome to an unseeing world (but then, you know all about an unseeing world). This is an artist speaking, an artist wondering why he bothers; an artist who sees his world turning into a place that makes him, and his art, irrelevant. And then, from the pain in his soul, from its despair and exhaustion, he wonders if that irrelevance would be merciful. But the last line rejects that notion, because it is bitter as hell. At this point, the artist as the enemy of authority is subtly suggested, which leads to what’s coming in this section.

A score or more horses had taken the trail he was now on. The killers were moving westward. He might well meet them if they had camped to rest up from their night of slaughter. They might well murder him, or just feed him.

We’ve started moving again, leading to questions of what waits ahead. The two possibilities raised by K for when he meets the killers come across as flat, which supports the next paragraph’s opening statement.

Kadaspala did not care. He had ten thousand faces in his head, and they were all the same.

POV control can permit the writer a natural shorthand. Consider the previous two lines. If I wasn’t as close to K in this point of view, I might have had to write something like: “Kadaspala did not care, because he had ten thousand….” But the tight POV permits me to dispense with “because.” So it’s cleaner and smoother.

The memory of Enesdia seemed far away now. If he was spared, he would ride for her, desperate with need. For the beauty he dared not paint, for the love he dared not confess. She was where the gods of colour gathered all the glory in their possession. She was where he would find the rebirth of his faith.

This reinforces elements of K’s character noted in other sections with him (his unnatural obsession with his sister).


Image Credit

Photograph published with author’s permission.


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