Friday, April 05, 2013

Guest Blogger: Ellen L. Ekstrom

Their First Meeting
The element in storytelling I like the most, and have the most fun with, is the first meeting between the lead male and female protagonists in the story. Who can forget the meeting between Romeo and Juliet at the Capulet Ball, or Jane Eyre’s encounter with Mr. Rochester on the bleak road at twilight? Henry II’s first glimpse of Eleanor of Aquitaine in Penman’s When Christ and His Saints Slept? Elizabeth Bennet’s first sparring with Mr. Darcy at the Assembly Ball? These are my favorites, and I’m sure you have lists even longer than mine. Why these first meetings stay in my mind and inspire my own writing is how natural, amusing or dramatic they are, and how the dialogue grabs you, pulls you into the story. 
Jane assists Rochester after his horse skids on the icy road and horse and rider tumble; Henry II attends the court of his liege lord Louis of France and sees Louis’ queen Eleanor. Parties are always a wonderful opportunity to meet someone new – Romeo crashes a party and falls hopelessly out of love with Rosaline (the reason he crashes the party) and headlong into a deadly passion for Juliet. You can get the wrong impression of someone at a party; just ask Elizabeth what she thought of Mr. Darcy after their first polite exchange of words!
Meetings like these I can never surpass – nor do I wish to duplicate. Instead, I’ve created ‘moments’ of my own in stories I’ve written. 
Francesco da Romena and Serafina Giustini, the lovers in The Legacy, had several first meetings in several drafts until I finally settled on the meeting that made it into the final version – in the dead of a cold winter night at an abbey in the middle of nowhere. Both Serafina and Francesco and their entourages are en route to Florence when they stop for the night at the aforementioned abbey. For Francesco, it is love at first sight when he sees Serafina; Serafina is a bit more circumspect, wary. For the time being. Chance encounters in the city of Florence spark interest. I wanted to show how the interest became a crush, an infatuation, and then love, and so I have Francesco and Serafina engage in conversations in the midst of everyday activities, something we all do. 
Every day activity is the mechanism that brings Alice Martin and Quinn Radcliffe of the Midwinter Sonata series together. Do you remember walking to your next class in high school and catching a glimpse of someone that starts your heart racing and you find yourself thinking about that one glance during geometry class? How you can’t wait for the next period so you can have another chance encounter in the hall? Did you ever walk the longest way possible from one class to another just to see the other person? So do I; and that experience found its way into Tallis’ Third Tune and Scarborough. Quinn is on his was to class when he sees Alice alone at her locker and sees that she is upset about something. He strikes up a conversation and offers to help in some way. We are given Quinn’s observations of this girl he is so much in love with and how it makes him feel – not a play-by-play commentary but little things: the way the sunlight shines on Alice’s hair, the soft woolen things she has knit and wears, how her movements affect him.
Alice has an encounter with someone in Verona, Italy. It’s a late afternoon; he walks through the carriage entrance to Juliet’s House and Alice is struck by how much this man looks like Quinn and notices things about him that pique her interest and yet keep her at arm’s length. She’s been hurt, devastated by love, and yet she is irresistibly drawn to this man named Donovan Trist. Alice has run away to Italy to forget a love only to be tempted once more; another chance encounter that grows to something serious. She is cautiously optimistic.
Tension between the characters is crucial. Why are these men and women drawn to one another? What tears them apart? Who or what is keeping them apart? In stories like those I described above, life goes on and life gets in the way – things like careers, personal tragedies, personalities, play a big part. George Ascalon, earl of Grasmere, and the mysterious Joanna Fletcher in Armor of Light meet under the worst of circumstances. George returns home from the Crusades and has a painful reunion with his father when he sees the glow of fire on the horizon – a house has gone up in a poorer neighborhood of the town and it is George who risks his life to save the girl left to die in the fire while townsfolk stand by and watch the house burn to the ground. The girl is less than grateful for her deliverance, but we see the beginnings of attraction and a tension that has you guessing about these two people – or does it?
The tension can come from anywhere. Francesco and Serafina have the barriers of political affiliation and family secrets to overcome; Alice and Quinn deal with societal classes and stigmas in the late nineteen sixties; Violet and Christian from my contemporary novel, A Knight on Horseback, have to deal with Transatlantic distance and a little something called honesty. There’s always something to keep the lovers apart, but something even stronger to bring them back together – love and determination. Characters that have real problems and real thoughts, people like you and me, are those that keep me cheering them on, people with whom I sympathize, and make me want to keep reading until the last page. 
It all begins when they meet.
May your reading and writing adventures take you on interesting paths.
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