This is the first in a series of articles in which author Steven Erikson deconstructs, paragraph by paragraph, the excerpt, posted here last week, from his most recent novel Forge of Darkness.
Kadaspala was not a believer in gods, but he knew that belief could create them. And once made, they bred in kind. He had seen places where discord thrived, where violence spun roots through soil and flesh both, and the only propitiation left to those who dwelt there was the spilling of yet more blood. These were venal gods, the vicious spawn of a stew of wretched emotions and desires. There was no master and no slave: god and mortal fed on each other, like lovers sharing a vile fetish.
POV. The opening line provides the character and offers up an inner landscape. Also, it is an assertion, the presentation of a thesis. The use of “believer” and “belie” binds the two clauses, and the opening hard consonant is echoed by the alliteration at the line’s end, completing the sentence’s rhythm. The second line extends the assertion. The use of hard consonants is echoed here, because they are hard thoughts. The third sentence is long and complex: as the thesis is elaborated upon, K. uses experience as an example, but his vision is one of interpretation only. This establishes his mind-set, and it’s not a pleasant one. Why? Answers to come.
Thus far the sentence pattern has been (in terms of clauses) two, two, three (followed by two, three). The centre of the paragraph is the longest sentence; the introduction sentences are shorter and the paragraph closes with a complex sentence (using a colon). Sentences 3, 4 and 5 all share alliteration, “v,” which is a closed sound. Their order is “violence, venal, vicious and vile” and thematically, the three follow from the first. In terms of syllable they are 3, 2, 2 and one. Consider switching the order of the final three and see the effects. Consider “violence” coming last in that order. What changes? The final line closes with a simile intended to register slight shock in the reader. It helps ending a paragraph that way, given the theme being explored. I want you knocked slightly ajar by that last image, to underscore the kind of relationship K. is imagining between a mortal and his god. Note the earlier use of the word “discord” and relate it to the closing of this paragraph. This is how you can fold denotation in with connotation, and use words to serve both information and subtext.
He knew that there was power in emotion, and that it could spill out to soak the ground, to stain stone and twist wood; that it could poison children and so renew the malign cycle, generation upon generation. Such people made of their home a god’s lap, and they curled tight within its comforting, familiar confines.
We move on, from “he had seen” in the first paragraph to “he knew” in the second. This is a closing in of POV and a closing in of psychic distance. Further, it invites the readers into the same”knowing” following”seeing,” a natural progression that marks the work of an intellect, from observation to conclusion. But be warned, not all invitations lead to comfortable environs. The opening sentence is complex, five clauses split by a semi-colon. Its content buries us in objects as symbols, in natural details of the environment made to carry metaphorical meaning. It also cues the reader that K. thinks via a visual, internal landscape, but at the same time it hints (possibly) at what he is seeing (this will only become clear when I finally set this scene. It’s part of my style to open sections and scenes in this “unanchored” manner. We get the internal but nothing of the external, not yet. Doing this helps me to begin fully immersed in the POV I have selected. Flipping it around and opening a scene with setting can also work in the same manner, provided the “witness” to that scene ascribes to the description a personal, emotional tone. An example of this will be provided in the next excerpt).
The second line once again makes physical the relationship between mortal and god, but the emotional impact of the image isn’t in the line as much as it is in the line preceding it, where the relationship is described as “poison” and “malign.” What leads to K. to think this, to believe this? We don’t yet know, but it’s coming…. Note also the use of an image evoking childhood, with all the securities and comforts that seems to entail. There is safety in a god’s lap, even for one caught in a poisoned, malign cycle of abuse. This “child” image moves away from the preceding paragraph’s “lovers” conclusion, but retains its disturbing echo, since one need not be a child sitting in that god’s lap.
Photo used with permission of author
Recent Steven Erikson Articles:
- Deconstructing Fiction (For Writers and Readers): Excerpt Deconstructed (8)
- Deconstructing Fiction (For Writers and Readers): Excerpt Deconstructed (7)
- Deconstructing Fiction (For Writers and Readers): Excerpt Deconstructed (6)
- Deconstructing Fiction (For Writers and Readers): Excerpt Deconstructed (5)
- Deconstructing Fiction (For Writers and Readers): Excerpt Deconstructed (4)