Monday, October 16, 2006
Suspense Elements in Story--Part 3
Happy Monday, BGs.
Before we get to "A" for Aura today, here’s a question regarding sentence rhythm from Katie Hart regarding Friday’s post on P—Pace:
Jack Cavanaugh uses the technique of a horribly long sentence, punctuated with plenty of commas and semicolons, during a high-action scene to convey a feeling of breathlessness. What do you think of this technique? I know it should be used sparingly (maybe an average of once per book), but would it still have a lulling effect?
No, it wouldn’t have a lulling effect. I talk about this technique in Getting Into Character as the one exception portraying action through short sentences. I call it the “beat of chaos.” When the action gets so heated, so chaotic that individual movements all run together—or perhaps when a person becomes so panicked that everything seems to run together—a long, breathless sentence can work wonderfully. In GIC I show an example of this from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. (By the way, if you have GIC—you can review these sentence rhythm techniques in the “Restraint and Control” chapter.) I’ve used this technique for one paragraph in the next Kanner Lake book, Coral Moon. (I almost posted it here as an example, but—nah. I don’t want to give away anything about that story.)
Okay, on to today's topic.
3. AURA. This could also be labeled “mood” or “tone.” It has to do with the overall feel of your novel.
The aura should be established in the opening scene(s). This is because the reader’s first glimpse of your novel is what will set up his/her expectations.
When you come right down to it, a lot of establishing aura has to do with word choice. You can do a great “aura exercise” by describing the same scene in two or more very different ways. No matter what you’re describing—even if it’s something usually considered beautiful—it can seem menacing and dark, just due to the words you use. For example, think of looking at a star-studded sky on a clear night. If you wanted to create a content/satisfied/beautiful of aura, you might use pleasing verbs for the stars like glitter or spangle, and you might describe the backdrop of sky as velvet. All of these create an aura of beauty and awe, and the word velvet brings in through the sense of touch the feeling of softness and warmth. Now how might you describe the same thing in a darkened tone?
Here’s a wonderful line from Alice Blanchard’s Darkness Peering, again describing a star-studded sky. But her novel is a suspense, and the tone is dark. Particularly in this scene, because the character viewing this sky is about to commit suicide. As the character looks up, here’s how he describes the sky:
What a brutal night, stars nailed to an indifferent sky.
Those words—brutal, nailed, indifferent—cast a completely different aura to a beautiful night sky. And they are perfect indicators for the character’s perception of a cold, heartless world.
In Brink of Death I also wanted to describe a beautiful night sky with a dark tone. In the scene the main character, a woman with a very vivid imagination, is frantically waiting outside a neighbor’s house while policemen go in and out after arriving with screaming sirens. Are her friends dead? What terrible thing has fate wrought? She sees the sky like this:
The ebony sky, pocked with stars, hung low and threatening, a witch’s face thrust toward earth to observe human tragedy with sneering delight.
In writing pure suspense, I have found that aura is a great tool for heightening tension. Remember on Friday I mentioned that in suspense the tension should never be let down too far, even in the quieter scenes? I said that one way to keep up tension in these scenes is to keep the inner action of the character going strong. Another way is through aura. A dark, suspenseful tone can carry a scene that’s outwardly quiet, infusing a scene with little activity (as defined in Friday’s post) with the feel of action.