The idea of “The Ice Palace” (Saturday Evening Post, May 22), grew out of a conversation with a girl out in St. Paul, Minnesota, my home. We were riding home from a moving picture show late one November night.
“Here comes winter,” she said, as a scattering of confetti-like snow blew along the street.
I thought immediately of the winters I had known there, their bleakness and dreariness and seemingly infinite length, and then we began talking about life in Sweden.
“I wonder,” I said casually, “if the Swedes aren’t melancholy on account of the cold—if this climate doesn’t make people rather hard and chill—” and then I stopped, for I had scented a story.
I played with the idea for two weeks without writing a line. I felt I could work out a tale about some person or group of persons of Anglo-Saxon birth living for generations in a very cold climate. I already had one atmosphere detail—the first wisps of snow weaving like advance-guard ghosts up the street.
At the end of two weeks I was in Montgomery, Alabama, and while out walking with a girl I wandered into a graveyard. She told me I could never understand how she felt about the Confederate graves, and I told her I understood so well that I could put it on paper. Next day on my way back to St. Paul it came to me that it was all one story—the contrast between Alabama and Minnesota. When I reached home I had
(1) The idea of this contrast.
(2) The natural sequence of the girl visiting in the north.
(3) The idea that some phase of the cold should prey on her mind.
(4) That this phase should be an ice palace—I had the idea of using an ice palace in a story since several months before when my mother told me about one they had in St. Paul in the eighties.
(5) A detail about snow in the vestibule of a railway train.
When I reached St. Paul I intrigued my family into telling me all they remembered about the ice palace. At the public library I found a rough sketch of it that had appeared in a newspaper of the period. Then I went carefully through my notebook for any incident or character that might do—I always do this when I am ready to start a story—but I don’t believe that in this case I found anything except a conversation I had once had with a girl as to whether people were feline or canine.
Then I began. I did an atmospheric sketch of the girl’s life in Alabama. This was part one. I did the graveyard scene and also used it to begin the love interest and hint at her dislike of cold. This was part two. Then I began part three which was to be her arrival in the northern city, but in the middle I grew bored with it and skipped to the beginning of the ice palace scene, a part I was wild to do. I did the scene where the couple were approaching the palace in a sleigh, and of a sudden I began to get the picture of an ice labyrinth so I left the description of the palace and turned at once to the girl lost in the labyrinth. Parts one and two had taken two days. The ice palace and labyrinth part (part five) and the last scene (part six) which brought back the Alabama motif were finished the third day. So there I had my beginning and end which are the easiest and most enjoyable for me to write, and the climax, which is the most exciting and stimulating to work out. It took me three days to do parts three and four, the least satisfactory parts of the story, and while doing them I was bored and uncertain, constantly re-writing, adding and cutting and revising—and in the end didn’t care particularly for them.
That’s the whole story. It unintentionally illustrates my theory that, except in a certain sort of naturalistic realism, what you enjoy writing is liable to be much better reading than what you labor over.
The story: The Ice Palace, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Published in The Editor magazine (Second July Number, 1920).