Wednesday, 9 December 2009

A Bridge's Tale

Let me tell you a story.

Like many people who write, I keep a note book. I use it both to note down ideas, and to develop them.

(^my notebook^)

Yes, this story has pictures. That’s the kind of story it is. (They were taken on my camera phone, though, so the quality isn't great. Sorry about that...)

Angeline of the Woods started off as a doodle I made at the Asylum while waiting for other people to show up for the creative writing workshop. A couple weeks after getting back, I put the few ideas I’d had into my notebook and began to poke them to see how they’d grow. After a couple of pages of thought-association, I hit a wall. So, I doodled a picture of the town the story is set in:

I drew the river. Then the town and the woods the titular Angeline would be Of. Towards the top of the woods, I marked an area ‘fuel allotments’ because I grew up within walking distance of a fair few acres of fuel allotments, and they were very special to me when I was young. I drew in some trees, some houses, some roads, a little picture of Angeline…

And you see that bridge? I put that in last, because I figured that the people in town would need a way to get to the fuel allotments. Then I noticed that the river flowed from north to south, and the bridge was north of the town. That meant that the ships would have to be able to fit under the bridge. As the town was just above sea level, that meant the bridge would have to be pretty large, and significantly raised above the level of the town. People would still have to be able to get over the bridge--how else would they get their fuel from the allotments?--so that meant there would have to be ramps of some sort leading up to it.

Hey… I was beginning to think, this bridge is going to pretty much dominate the town. The town was built around the docks so the bridge couldn’t be an expansion of an older bridge (otherwise the ships wouldn’t be able to get in). Huge projects like that are prestige projects, built to make a statement more than anything else. Who would do that, I wondered?

I got distracted before I could figure that out. Would a bridge--with two huge arches like in my doodle--even be able to support itself or would physics be against it? Well, three hours of Google and Wikipedia later, I was satisfied physics would be kind to the bridge.

So, back to the question of who built it, and why. The ships coming into the town are the lost and deserted ships of all time and space. Those ships which disappear without a trace, those who end up in Davey Jones’ locker, those who sail into the mist and reappear years later… those are the ships which come through. Maybe one of these ships was carrying a Brunel-esque engineer, someone with the knowledge, vision and determination to see through a project of such magnitude.

He must, I decided, have done it to free the people of the town. To free them from whom? Well… before the bridge was built, the townspeople must have moved from one side to the other. The County Road is on the other side of the river, and that sounds like an important road. So, whoever controls travel across the river controls who gets fuel and when, and who gets through to the County Road and when. Our Brunelian engineer was enraged by this evil cartel of ferry operators and the absolute power they wielded, so he decided to free the town! Yay!

Obviously, he couldn’t rely on the ferry operators ferrying his stone from the County Road to his building site and he couldn’t just wait around and hope a ship would come in with the vast amount of stone he would need. So the stone would have to be local. From my previous time with Wikipedia and Google, I had discovered that a bridge of such magnitude would probably have to be built from granite if it was going to last.

But what the hell kind of forest would grow on a bedrock of granite, especially where there was enough at hand to blast out the ground and built a bridge of? Wikipedia failed me. I dropped all other quests, and focused. Search term after search term found themselves in my search bar to be sent scurrying across the web. Eventually, I gained enough XP to level up my Google-fu and found an answer.

(The Granite-Forest quest lead to another one about the sort of undergrowth which would grow in such a forest, but that’s another story.)

Armed with my notes

I started writing.

The bridge was only built two generations ago, so as well as dominating the town physically it’s also going to be pretty dominate psychologically. Everyone living in the town would have had a part to play in its story.

Nigel, the kind-hearted local lad Feathers recruits to help him, tells Feathers of his grandfather’s part:
“Grandfather helped to build the bridge,” Nigel said. “Happiest damned day of his life was when he took his family and walked across to t'other side…pushed his wife off the side, see. They hanged him from the scaffolding over the second arch. Told my girl he's ghost stays there, guards the county road as penance. Makes her proud, that. Great-grandfather guarding the whole town an' all.”

He’s proud of his grandfather, in an odd sort of way.

The bridge does restrict the traffic which can get to the town docks. Anything taller than a clipper would have trouble, for example. Luckily, Nigel knew the town’s ingenious solution:
“The bridgemen used to run this town,” Nigel said. “Grandfather used to say about these big platforms what used to float from one side of the river to t'other. Four bridgeman to move it, two to steer. Only way to get to the county road over the water was on the platform, so if you wanted anything--food, horses, wood, anything--you'd have to take a platform and pay the bridgemen. Then a man came along. On a big iron ship that moved God only knows how. Took one look at the bridgemen, and stood in the town square and told everyone he was going to build us a bridge. So he did. Everyone watched as he built up them banks on each side and as this thing slowly came to be. When it was finished, bridgemen went broke in a month. He was walking along the riverside, passed by a gang of bridgemen, fell in the water and drowned.”

Nigel shrugged as if that was all there was to the story. Feathers took his hands off the windowsill and linked them behind his back.

“What happened to the bridgemen?” he asked.

“One of the workers from the boat who'd built the bridge, he brought all the platforms and made them into the Grossanlegen. Everyone winds up happy.”

That’s all from the first draft. (Grossanlegen is a crude German translation for ‘Big Docks’.)

When editing, I strive to remove any ounce of fat I can find. You know how much of the bridge’s story has survived to the third draft?

Yep. None.

I mean, it was great fun to explore the bridge’s history, to literally build it up and watch as it grew and the history of the town grew with it. It was gratifying to listen as Nigel made the bridge a real, tangible thing with its own past, memories and legends. But it didn’t add anything to the story of Angeline of the Woods. So it had to go.

There are no scared cows in the editing room. Editor Foxie is a cruel, cruel man.

1 comment:

Jo Thomas said...

I don't have a notebook. I feel all deprived now.

Actually, that's not true. I have several lying about the place but I rarely use them for writing ideas or bits of prose down. I tend to put everything on computer, instead.