Denise Covey and Yolanda Renee of WEP came up with this blog hope, and as a fiction writer, I couldn’t resist. Setting is such an important part of fiction writing. Great idea, ladies.
1. Here is an image that ‘stops my heart with a spectacular setting’ – a painting by an Austrian artist Joseph Anton Koch. From Wikipedia: “Joseph Anton Koch (1768 – 1839) was … perhaps the most significant neoclassical landscape painter.” He painted many fantastic landscapes, but this one is probably my favorite.
2. Why does it touch me so deeply? I imagine a story set in this painting. In fact, I imagine a multitude of stories, all different, and I want to write them all. You see a tiny man in the foreground. He is on some sort of an adventure. Maybe his beloved undine lives in this waterfall, and he wants to join her and become a merman?
Or maybe he’s been on the road for a long time, on a quest for his king/country/family, and now he has a new hazard to brave. It’s not going to be easy for him to cross this wild stream, especially because there is a horrible monster living in its depth, waiting for unsuspecting humans to cross its domain.
Or maybe he has to climb to the top of the waterfall in search of a dragon’s egg? Or a fair maiden waits for him at a fortress of cruel ogres. All sort of stories spring up in my head when I look at this image, and the endless possibilities take my breath away. This one painting could feed a generation of fantasy writers. It certainly feeds my creativity.
3. Below is a snippet from my short fantasy story, yet unpublished. The young protagonist, Aglaya, is escaping an enclosed compound, a stronghold of a band of bandits, to take her sick child to a Healer.
Overhead, clouds swept across the black sky like tattered feathers. The stars between the feathers twinkled distantly. The thick silvery crescents of both moons peeked between the clouds, as if eavesdropping on each other. On the ground beneath, a solid black lump of the marker rose to half Aglaya’s height, blocking the path. On both sides of it, dense evergreens sprouted needles like armed sentinels, more formidable than human guards.
She took a deep breath and started climbing, balancing with her arms like a tightrope walker. Levi fussed against her breasts, throwing off her equilibrium, and she teetered in the dark, small pebbles rolling under her soles.
“No, baby, no,” she crooned as she righted herself, straining her leg muscles to keep upright. “We’ll be okay. I’ll get you out.” Her heart pounded. Fortunately, her voice settled him.
The rugged pile of stones dropped lower under her probing feet. She could see almost nothing but she knew she had crossed the small barricade. The curve in the path wasn’t far, and then she would light her lamp. Nobody would spot her then. Nobody except the howlers.
She stretched out her left hand, groping, until her fingers encountered the moss-and-roots-covered wall of the canyon. Holding to it, skimming along the knobby roots and scratching her fingers, she shuffled slowly. Both moons hid, withholding their light, waiting for her to fail.
She wouldn’t fail. Levi needed her strong.
One tiny step after another brought her to the bend in the path. She leaned toward the cliff as she turned, grasping for the gnarled knots of vegetation. A misstep could be fatal here. After a few more yards, she stopped. Inside the ravine, even the stars were gone. Above and below and to both sides, blackness ruled. She needed light. Even if anyone from the village glimpsed her lamp, nobody would chase her into the ravine. Not at night. Nobody was that crazy. The howlers would keep her safe from human pursuit.
She tried not to think about the howlers, but they crawled in the back of her mind like ants, making her queasy with dread. Her hands shook, as she fumbled with the fire starter. At least in the weak light of her lamp, she could see the path. The wall of the canyon loomed to her left. A steep slope strewn with mysterious heaps dropped to her right, disappearing into the inky vapor below. The howlers stayed silent. Maybe they only frightened travelers in daytime.
She flinched, when the first faint whisper curled around her neck, pulling at her with its seductive promise of peace. “Come, Aglaya.” Another one joined in. “Happiness awaits.”
She almost stepped off the path, when Levi stirred. “Mommy,” he whispered.
“Yes, baby, I’m here.” She shook her fist at the wily spirits. “I’m not coming to you. You can’t Heal Levi. That’s all the happiness I need.”
Resolutely, she increased her pace, stomping as fast as she dared on the perilous path. The vilias, offended by her refusal, raised the volume of their calls. They wailed at her, and the power of their yowls almost blew her down, into the boiling, shimmering black fog.
“No!” she shouted and grabbed the roots hanging along the wall. “I can’t go to you. Levi needs me.” She marched on. Tears streamed down her cheeks, and the fear-induced nausea swirled in her guts. She was such a darn coward.
Word count: 570; FCA (Full Critique Acceptable)