Saturday, 19 January 2013

From the Odyssey to The exile - part 2

In part 1 of this series, we saw how the Odyssey by Homer was the initial inspiration behind The exile. Now, let's get some insights into how the story was changed from a 2,000 year old tale into a modern story.

I decided to cut it all down to the spline of the story. Many of the scenes in the Odyssey can form the basis for some scenes in my story, but we there will not be enough time to dwell too much on them. I had to become ruthless about changes to the story. I could not let the Odyssey get in the way of a good story. Whenever it suited me, I made changes. After all, I am a story teller, not a journalist, and there are no real truths in a story that does not exist yet.

The chapters of the Odyssey can be grouped into three sections, 1) the search for Ulysses 2) Ulysses's journey into exile and 3) Ulysses's return. The exile will follow a similar outline, i.e. Tyler's search for his father, Hugo's back story of going into exile, and Hugo's return home.

In the Odyssey, Homer has the war hero, Ulysses. I have Hugo for this role. We had the Trojan war in the Odyssey to form the backdrop of the story. In modern South Africa we had the fight against apartheid. In the Odyssey, Ulysses was in exile on an island. In South Africa, many people left the country to live in exile on an island overseas. The two most popular destinations were, Australia and Britain. I had to make a choice there, and chose Britain. Australia would have worked as well, as the anti-apartheid movement was just as strong over there.

Homer starts the Odyssey with Zeus, the great god, calling on the muse to tell him about Ulysses, the war hero who never returned home. He then gives Minerva permission to free Ulysses and allow Ulysses to return home.

In the first draft of The Exile I had Zuma (Zeus), the president of South Africa, calling the journalists (modern day muses) to fill him in on the detail of the war hero Hugo (Ulysses). After hearing the story, he grants permission to Melissa (Minerva), to go find Hugo. This introduction to the story however soon got canned. There are too many caveats in that scene, and besides, it did not really add anything to the story. The basic test for any scene is: if I leave this scene out completely, would it change or hurt the story in any way? This scene could not pass this test, and was therefore canned. It only added the need for extra characters and extra stage sets, which will not be needed anywhere else in the story. That just adds cost, even though, admittedly, it woulds have made an interesting introduction.

In the Odyssey Homer moves on to Minerva meeting up with Telemachus at a party at Penelope's home, and telling him to get off his backside and go search for his father. This scene is very important, as it provides the real kick-off to the rest of the tale, so I decided to use this as my opening scene. As we dismissed the original opening scene, we needed to get some connection between Melissa, who get the story into action, and Tyler, who is the one who must take the action. The Odyssey sowed enough seeds to allow for a love story between Telemachus and Minerva, so I decided to use that angle and make Melissa Tyler's girlfriend.

In the initial drafts, the occasion for the party was the first democratic elections celebrations in South Africa. Later on we changed this to become the 10 year celebrations. That gave us some space to add some extra plot elements to our story.

From that point onwards the story started to fall into place. Calypso became Cathy in The exile. Menelaus became Manual, Penelope became Pamela and we did away with a whole lot of extras.

Many side stories from the Odyssey were canned for the sake of relevance and to shorten the story. In the Odyssey, the back story is made up by many chapters about Ulysses's travels from Troy until he got stuck in exile. I brought all of that back story down to the only a few songs. I needed enough back story to make my audience understand why he did what he did and how he came to be in exile. There was not enough space to give all the saucy details. All the war scenes and protest march songs got canned.

The back story is broken up in a few short passages, and spread them around. First we give Pamela a chance to tell her side of the story in "I recall" and "Into Exile". We'll have Neil telling us his story in "From afar", and later on will Manual take the story further in "A matter of import". Finally, Hugo will give us the final crucial details in "A long long time" and "Memories long forgotten".

So, until next time....

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