Recently releasing my first novel, Siciliana, reminded me of some of the basics of writing. One thing I noticed in this story is the use of narrative action to demonstrate the psychology of the different characters.
One of the best examples I can think of for this in pop culture is the film Good Will Hunting. There is a scene where Will is having a tense discussion with his girlfriend. Just behind them are a pair of old men playing chess. What a wonderful image of what was really going on in the discussion.
A Tale of Two Leaves
Central to Siciliana is the contract between Snodatu and his brother-in-law Don Sciarpa. When the proposition is first ratified, the manuscript reads:
“Two ash leaves danced the saltarello across the wooden floorboards. The wind pinned one leaf against the Don’s shoe. That same wind tossed the other leaf over his shoe and into the ankle of Snodatu. He stepped on the leaf, which made no sound as it was ground under his leather sole. He moved his foot and stared down at the ash leaf. A drop of blood plummeted into the canyons and valleys of the broken leaf. Snodatu leaned with his elbows on his knees and examined the blood run chaotically, always seeking lowest ground. The crimson stain became suddenly diluted with the splash of a single tear. The ash leaf scampered on its back before it danced away and off the stoika portiko by the stubborn fall breeze.”
Recall from the last article that the ash tree was thought in medieval times to be the tree from which the cross of Christ was made. So the ash symbolizes spirituality. Each leaf represents one of these two men, although it communicates much more about Snodatu than Don Sciarpa.
The leaf is stepped on and ground by Snodatu. His spirituality is going to be crushed by what he does. Since this event takes place immediately after the deal is sealed (in blood), it demonstrates that it will be Snodatu carrying out his agreement with the Don that will lead to his spiritual ruin. This is emphasized by the drop of blood that falls into the leaf and saturates it. Snodatu’s sin will involve the shedding blood. Also, this tells us that Snodatu will spiritually fall by following through with his deal that he just made with Don Sciarpa.
A Tale Of Two Leaves Redux
The pair of leaves appear again, but at the end of the book. As the first pair of leaves demonstrated spiritual fall that would occur, these last two show the redemption which just took place, both for Snodatu and Don Sciarpa (who in this excerpt is called Paolu Aglieri, which is his family name).
“The carriage rested beside a larch tree, which autumn had stripped of all her leaves save two. A pair of unseasonably green and healthy leaves clung to the end of the bottom branch. A sudden gust of wind ripped one leaf away and blew it the same direction that Paolu Aglieri had taken. The second leaf held firm, until a final surge plucked the leaf away. An updraft cast the leaf skyward, and when the wind failed, the leaf drifted down back to the earth, finally resting on the front seat to the carriage immediately beside the reins.”
As the ash was considered for continental Europe, the larch was a sacred tree for ancient Scandinavian cultures. The Word-Tree (or Tree of Life in Christianity) was a larch tree in Nordic literature. So these pair of leaves are meant to compliment the first pair of leaves we just read about.
These leaves are green, even though it’s autumn. This connotes health and life primarily in a spiritual context. Although green, the leaves are blown away by the winds of change. Each of these men following their individual redemption is about to enter the next big transition in their life. One leaf is blown down the trail that the Don had just taken. The other lands in the front seat of a carriage, which Snodatu is about to board and take to meet him family.
These men were self-cursed by their own misdeeds. Both redeemed themselves by correction of life and a new path. As the dead and dying ash trees stood for the fall of these men, these prosperous larch leaves show their reversal of misfortune.
There are several other such references in the book. Some involve cats, cannons, and swords, to name a few. But the point I feel is made well enough to be understood with the reference to the leaves that bookend the story. So whether it’s a leaf or a cat or a chessgame, include incidental action that shows us the person, what will happen to them, or what has just occurred. It’ll add beauty and substance to your story and provide for an entertaining read.
I hope this article encourages you to want to pick up a copy of my novel. You can purchase your copy of Siciliana now on Amazon and Kindle by clicking here. Get yours soon before the introductory price goes up soon. And be sure to Share this with all of your fellow-writers, and Comment in the section below and tell me what you think.