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“You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” ~Frederick Buechner

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Strategy # 5 Honest Sensory Keys: Decay

Build Your Story: 8 Strategies for Writing Innovative Setting with Impact

“In the physical world, a house or boat or car in a state of decay will inevitably create suspense. Rotting wood, a half-submerged car in a lake, or a trail of faded old clothing will cause the reader to feel concerned.” Jordan E. Rosenfeld

Suspense Example: Decay

Second Example From A Memory Between Us by Sarah Sundin

This next historical novel includes war as well, but a century later, and the focus in this summary excerpt is the emotional tension of a growing romance. Look how weather, decay, color, and touch are used to build authenticity here.

Innovative setting with sensory details has the potential to provide a powerful impact and lingering effect whether its presence is subtle or panoramic. In A Memory Between Us, Sarah Sundin leans more towards this scene’s setting as a backdrop and subtle presence, but she does it in a way as to highlight key story components, sometimes all at once.

Excerpt: Chapter 11

Starting at page 96 as they stroll “down the street and through the imposing Norman Gate Tower. Jack pointed out the slits in the thick stone walls.” They walk into a circular garden where a man plays a violin to a group of children. Jack lays down his jacket so Ruth doesn’t snag her stockings on the black, white, and gray stones protruding from the mortar. And then too there’s the watch—time moving forward.

The setting is steeped in history—part of a ruined abbey. And right now that is how Ruth views her own life, as in ruins. She struggles between emotions that are black, white, and gray as she finds herself drawn to Jack, and at the same time pushes him away. It’s interesting that Ruth considers it stupid that the ancient building were torn down in the Reformation. She has thick emotional walls surrounding her but there a few slits opening and Jack is coming through them. Maybe she also has a premonition, or fear, that her wall will be smashed too. But often our walls have to come down so healing can take place. Which begins a few paragraphs on as they prepare to dance and Ruth finds herself sobbing in his arms.

            “Now the tears flowed in an unrelenting stream. Folded in Jack’s arms, she could be weak, she could grieve, she could be nurtured.” (And can’t you just hear the violin still playing.)

She feels safe, she weakens, he kisses her, she melts, and then all the past ugliness rises up to poison the moment. In her sorrow and hurt she then lashes out at Jack, and steps back into the ruins of her heart. 

Note the touch details here: the feel of the jacket, the stones, the watch, her feet on the ground as they dance, Jack’s arms, the tears on her cheeks.

Excerpt: Chapter 20

            “‘Here we are. House of Parliament. Wow. Look at the bomb damage.’ The rubble had been cleared long ago, but boards still covered holes in the wall.”

            They walked further. “Ruth focused on the side of an ancient building of pale gray stone with a regal façade rising to her right. Westminster Abbey, of course. Every window was boarded up. ‘I heard they removed the stained glass to storage during the Blitz.’” She stood imaging the Abbey with its stained glass.
They walk and Ruth shares the conflict over money. Jack’s anger shows at her aunt’s greediness, which is seen through the amount of money she demands from Ruth. Ruth flashes back into the old poverty set up against the opulence of Buckingham Palace and her fears for her siblings. She grasps the bars, prison bars. 

            “Behind those walls people still got sick and died and hurt each other. But behind those walls people never went to bed hungry, never watched their loved ones work themselves to death, never turned to immoral means in order to eat.”

Her shame keeps rising within her, the beauty of the day and friendship seeping away and then she sees Eddie Reynolds and runs into the park in a panic, hyperventilating.

“She nodded, ashamed of her behavior and still fighting the terror that her secret could have been revealed to destroy all she’d worked for, sacrificed for, and sinned for.”

Note: details of decay and how they matched Ruth’s feelings.

Both these sensory settings became a mirror for Ruth’s conflicts, gave characterization details for Ruth, and Jack, set the atmosphere both internally and externally, provided the right mood and music, and symbolism, and kept the narrative moving forward.

Share: How could you use decay in your scene?

Read deep, marcy

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