I’ve written a yet-to-be-published novel about a mermaid in today’s ocean whose story is as much about being a woman as it is about being a mermaid, maybe more. Being Mermaid: Creating Story
Worldbuilding is an element of the writing craft referring to the creation of an imaginary world within which the characters live. Today’s post is about lore, the accumulated knowledge and tradition held by a group that’s passed from generation to generation in the oral tradition.
What is the history of my mermaids? How do they know where they’ve come from and what is important in their lives? How do they share their stories? express their beliefs? What are the traditions and rituals that set them apart, as a family of mermaids and as one mermaid from another?
Before I began to work out the answers to these questions, I knew for certain there would be no history books, journals, diaries, nothing written. Mermaids do not write or read.
What they would do is express music.
The Oral Tradition
The term “oral tradition” is a means of passing on one’s heritage only by word of mouth or example.
To specialize the oral tradition for my mermaids who, in part, stem from the mythology of Sirens Being Mermaid: From Out of the Sea, I focused on music. Rather than talk about their past, mermaids sing, chant and use body movement.
“Subtle flips of her tail and twists of her arms and hands emphasized specific notes and images.” ~from When Oceans Sang (working title)
Every aspect of a mermaid’s life resonates music. The family sings praise as the sun rises and sings hope for a safe sleep when the sun sets and the moon rises. They have songs about the taste of sweet seagrass and enjoying freedom. Music reflects their moods and expresses their history.
A Mermaid’s Personal Lifesong
The mermaids of Mangrove Island know the lives of the past and present mermaids. How?
As a mermaid ages, she chooses from the experiences of her life and creates lyrics and movements to express them, called her lifesong.
“Her personal lifesong ebbed and flowed with her movements.” ~from When Oceans Sang (working title)
The song is as individualized as she is.
The Eldest female mermaid and the Elder male mermaid possess the longest repertoire of mermaid lore because they know the personal lifesong of each member of the family.
A lifesong is s key aspect of the death ceremony. As a mermaid’s body is taken to the bottom of the sea in a ritual I’ve described as “Born of the sea; given back to the sea,” the mermaids sing her lifesong in honor of the being she was among them and will continue to be thereafter.
The creative juices are at work here as I imagine a family who lives in the ocean and communicates through music. From conception until death, a mermaid expresses herself through song.
Music is the strongest link to mermaid lore.
“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ~Phillip Pullman (The Golden Compass)