The ancient Greeks knew the blacksmith as the priest of metals and his smithy as a temple to the gods.1Fire also had a prominent place in the ancient religion:
The role of fire in ancient Greek religion is all-pervasive: whether in the sacrificial flame burning on the god’s altar, the funeral pyre in human burial, or the torch-light which characterized nocturnal festivals and, in particular, mystery cults. … It remained always a medium for intercourse between the human and divine worlds…2
They also believed that exotic metals came into this world from the world of the divine and were brought into it by fire. Hephaestus was the fire god, but he was also the only working god, a blacksmith, and a master craftsman. He was the consummate artist and also a storyteller. According to Homer, when Hephaestus forged Achilles’ shield, on the front he inlaid scenes that told stories. One was a city scene:
The men had gathered in the market-place where, a quarrel was in progress, two men quarrelling over the blood-money for a man who had been killed: one claimed that he was making full compensation, and was showing it to the people, but the other refused to accept any payment: both were eager to take a decision from the arbiter. The people were taking sides, and shouting their support for either man, while the heralds tried to keep them in check.3
Many other ancient Greek craftsmen were also involved in storytelling. For example, scenes from all the ancient myths were depicted on vases and frescos.4 The fact that craft was so intimately ingrained in storytelling, and in particular the smithy as a place for storytelling, gives us a metaphor for characterizing the author’s workplace. All writers are craftsmen and are frequently referred to as “wordsmiths.” Therefore, it is natural to call a novelist a “novelsmith” and his craft “novelsmithing.”
But many would-be novelsmiths of today want to skip the apprenticeship necessary to learn a craft and jump immediately into getting the words on the page. So it is that frequently the lump of gold they stumble across while living their lives presents itself as a story, and they believe it just might be the next New York Times bestseller, once they’ve pounded it into the shape of a novel. Shouldn’t be that difficult, they think, but fifty pages or so into the writing of it, they lose their way. Seems they’ve not found a pot of gold at all, but fools gold instead. This comes as a shock, and for many, it constitutes the end of their short experiment with novel writing. But some will be interested enough to seek out a little knowledge about the craft and may even come to view learning about it as interesting as writing a novel. But where can the beginning novelsmith turn to learn his craft?
Good primers on creative writing fill the bookshelves, and heaven knows, a beginning writer would do well to study them thoroughly. But none of these books actually get down to the specifics of putting a novel together. This book, Novelsmithing, fills that void.
Novelsmithing provides the beginning novelist, or perhaps even the experienced novelist who has lost his way, with a discussion of the underlying structure and methods of novel writing. It is intended that the reader proceed by taking each chapter in sequence, since the concepts developed in succeeding chapters depend strongly on those coming before.
This approach to novel writing is original, although it does make use of concepts developed by other authors. In particular, I’ve appropriated the concept of the Premise as developed by Lajos Egri in his The Art of Dramatic Writing, although I do take exception to some of his understanding of what constitutes the Premise. My development is a complete approach to structuring a novel so that it forms a consistent and interrelated whole. In addition, I relate the Premise to elements of the analytical psychologist Carl Jung’s interpretation of what goes on within the human psyche. As a matter of fact, the entire development has been heavily influenced by Jung’s thinking, and in particular, his revelations concerning ancient Greek myth.
The completion of the first nine chapters should provide the author with a rough draft for his novel. Chapter 10 provides him with insight into his own creative processes. Chapter 11 gets into the sticky subject of ethics, and Chapters 12 and 13 provide some basic guidance concerning the editing and publishing of the completed novel.
The ideas developed in this book concern basic storytelling and can just as easily be apply to narrative non-fiction, drama, and screenwriting. My travelogue, Oedipus on a Pale Horse, is an example of how a writer might use this technique to generate an extended personal-history narrative.