These last several weeks I have made a very conscious effort to outline, to plan, to study, and to understand how exactly scenes and plot elements work together to make a story. I also banned the idea of embarking on a long project without adequate planning, as that has resulted in many years of floundering for me, and I no longer wish to flounder.
On a related topic (you will understand soon why), I have always been fascinated with a lore which was popular with stories of my childhood, though does not seem to be so popular now. In fact, it seems forgotten, and it is possible that the only reason I know of this lore was because I was madly crazy about unicorns and horses as a little girl. The lore goes like this: To hunt a unicorn, a virgin must go out into the woods and kneel down, and a unicorn is drawn to her. If she is true, he puts his head in her lap and the hunter may then shoot said unicorn. If she is not true, then what happens depends on the unicorn, everything from running away to stabbing her through her wicked heart.
I’d never questioned why someone would want to hunt a unicorn, nor why a woman would help in these matters, nor why she had to be a virgin, or for that matter, most disturbing of all, why a male unicorn is drawn to a female virgin and proceeds to put his head essentially on her genitalia. As an adult looking to find something of use to Google, I decided to do just that.
I found two articles, one addressing the unicorn hunt which may well have its originations in Late Mideaval and Rennaisance lore and art which lead to the creation of The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries made at the turn of the 16th century. As was a common trend, this unicorn hunt could be a blending of Pagan and Christian lore to make Christianity easier for the local population to accept. From my interpretation, the unicorn hunt is representational of Christ’s crucifixion, with Christ being the unicorn and the virgin being a vessel of truth which he saves, or a vessel of lies which he may kill. The hunter represents those who committed the crucifixion. Additionally, the virgin sacrifice would be seen as both a poetic and a practical thing. Who wants to hear about a mother of five being torn away from her family to feed a dragon, or for that matter a pregnant newlywed? Doesn’t have the same story-telling lure as does a coming-of-age style tale. And, of course, ALL unwed women of the time were virgins, right?
Still Intact: The Lure and Lore of the Virgin, an article by Anke Bernau, discusses the role of virgins and makes a wonderful anthropological analysis in a manner which even ordinary people will find fascinating. While the Unicorn Tapestries did make me think, it was this article which prompted me to put pen to paper.
I had this burning question, What if unicorns really were a representation of Christ? What if dragons really did plague the villages? What if, instead of sacrificing woman after woman without knowing if they would satisfy the sacrificial qualifications, the villagers instead appointed a single girl to be their Virgin Sacrifice when they needed one? After all, if the virgin were true, the unicorn did not kill her, and thus she may be re-used several times over. Now what of the dragons? What did a dragon want? Certainly a human did little to sate their hunger if they wanted a meal, compared with a horse or perhaps a hog or two if they liked human-like flesh, and dragons were universally regarded as being intelligent so perhaps they wanted company?
OK, so that is much more than a single burning question, but I thought it would be an interesting idea to explore in a short story. Then the very first paragraph threw in a twist for me, and the ones after were equally intriguing.
I find my cloak and slip it over my shoulders, the one lined with unicorn fur and decorated the the iridescent sheen of dragon scales.
“I am going out,” I tell the monks hunched over their respective books. I lick my lips before I add, “I may be a week or two.”
It will take me that long to find a man who does not know me, who does not know what I am, and who will not see me returned home pure and intact. It is a dangerous objective to go into the world with this goal, but it is my only way.
Brother Adams looks up from pulling string through the binding of his book, and Brother Jacob looks up from laying out an illuminated letter on the page, making calculated placement of the decoration and the size of the ‘G’ before touching the hide with anything permanent. He’s already scraped off the mistakes once today. The two men look to each other, exchanging glances. Brother Jacob is irritated, Brother Adams is concerned, but they reach an agreement during the course of their eye contact, knowing that it has been three months since I expressed a desire to walk the woods. Brother Adams nevertheless frowns as he says, “We will burn black smoke if we need you. Bring back whatever herbs you find, we will be in want of them soon.”
I bow my head, pick up a basket off the floor, hoping they do not notice that it sags in the bottom with the weight of a knife hidden beneath a loaf of bread. I feel guilt already for taking it without asking, but I know that the Lord would want me to have a tool handy with me on this quest. My bag bumps my knees as I stand upright; it contains all I need to survive for months, and is unnervingly light on my shoulders, but I took as much food as I dared to take without arising alarm.
Brother Jacob must see something in my expression, he has the better light and can see my face easier. “Constance, what will you be looking for?”
Brother Adams has not resumed his work; he, too, suspects there is something not right even as I have done my best to remain impassive and uncaring. Speaking with a hint of a smile, I say, “The seasons are changing. I seek knowledge.”
They watch me as I slip toward the door. Brother Jacob calls to me, his brows furrowed, “Be wary what you seek, child, for knowledge is a dangerous thing to wield.”
It’s as though he knows I am leaving to lose my virginity.
Which, of course, begs the question why?
…and then, the short story kept on growing. I’m finishing it today. I worked on it in three parts on three days. The first day was the beginning. I actually did type that up, it was around four thousand words. The second day was the middle; it is not yet typed, and I suspect it is around seven thousand words. Today is the conclusion, and I want it to be between three and four thousand. It is about half-done at the time I am writing this post. This would put the draft at about 14,000-15,000 words. Not a bad size for a novella.
This is not exactly my standard subject material, and I find myself wondering which of my friends would be the most open-minded about reading it over in a week or two. Just to say this, as I had to beat it into my husband’s skull, it is not a sex novel. Not that there is anything wrong with them, but it just *isn’t*. It’s a tale about taking control of your life, about growing up, and following your dreams. The very nature of the premise makes it inseparable from sex and gender, as well as dealing with topics of religion and beliefs. It’s a tinderbox of social taboos. And that’s good, because writing is one of those places where taboos can be examined. Of course, when you play with fire you will get burned at some point. Someone won’t like it, but if you’re lucky, if you’re real lucky, your readers will be divided into two camps: Love it, and Hate it. This means the message you’re communicating is being received–and people are reacting. What good is a bit of writing which causes no reaction?
Still. It’s something that made me very embarrassed when my husband picked up a page and read aloud, “What is it like to kiss? I pressed my lips to my palm, then licked it, ran my tongue over the roof of my moth and my teeth.”
He looked pretty green at that excerpt. I don’t know why he couldn’t have picked a bit dealing with a unicorn or, better, a dragon, where there was action going on. I beat him up with a towel until he gave me my page back. Having someone read my work aloud is very embarrassing to me, and it would have been terrible if the concierge was called on us to settle a noise disturbance over a bit of my writing. Meh. I got my way in the end.
Anywho. I really need to get started on our Thanksgiving feast. The hubbs won’t be glad if he comes home from classes to find out I’ve spent all day on the computer. 😉