Thursday, November 19, 2009
Emotion Memory--Part 3
Give me 10 minutes and I'll turn you into a murderer.
[Missed parts 1 and 2? Read them here and here.]
Follow me through this scene and allow yourself to discover the powerful depths of emotion memory. You may not have experienced this exact situation, but chances are you’ve experienced one very similar to it. From the smallest, most insignificant moment of your life you can unleash the emotion memory needed to portray one of mankind’s most heinous acts.
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Finally, the time has come. The time set aside just for you, when your guests have waved goodbye after their week-long stay. You are alone in the house and exhausted. You don’t care that you have work to do. All you can think of is – The Book.
You were reading it, loving it before the guests came. But all during the week you could only catch bits and pieces of it after falling into bed each night, your eyes fighting sleep. Last night you managed to read for almost an hour. You only have fifty pages left, and you can’t wait to see how it all turns out.
Your guests now gone, you make a bee-line for the book, grasp it from your nightstand and hurry to the family room. There, your steps slow. You hesitate in the center of the room, biting the inside of your lip. This long-awaited time is too good to rush through, you think. You want to enjoy it, revel in it. You blink as an idea flits across your mind. Tossing the book on the couch, you head for the kitchen. You’ll make your favorite hot drink to sip and savor as you read. Ah, that will really do it! The mere anticipation rolls comfort, contentment, across your shoulders.
You hum a little tune as you make the drink. Its wonderful aroma tickles your nose as you carry the hot mug into the family room and place it on an end table. You pick up your book, settle into the couch with a sigh. Smiling, you open the novel, slip out the bookmark and begin to read.
Your eyes glide over the pages, your muscles relaxing, your mind emptying of all but the events in the novel. Once in awhile you pick up your mug, sip your drink. The house is quiet save for the distant ticking of a clock in the kitchen. You wish this time would never end.
The scene you’re reading heats up. Oh, no! The heroine can’t do that; whatever will become of her? And what about her nemesis – you know he’s still up to no good. Surely he’ll leap from the pages any moment now, aiming his intended miseries at the characters you are cheering. You turn the page. Aha. There he is. Oh, but surely he won’t –-
A fly cruises across the room.
Your eyes flick at it distractedly, then back to the book. You continue reading, devouring the words. Oh, the passions. You can feel the scenes. They sweep you off your feet, transport you. You want to hurry and finish the story to see what happens; you want the story never to end. You’re almost done with a chapter. The evil adversary is turning to the hero and heroine, opening his mouth . . .
The fly buzzes into your family room window, backs up, then buzzes into it again.
Your eyes lift with irritation from the page, first to stare unseeing across the room as you listen, then to blink into a narrowed gaze at the fly. He is annoying. He is large. He is disturbing your peace, your moment. You wish he would go away.
He buzzes, smacks the window repeatedly.
You pull your eyes back to your book. You continue reading, your forehead etched in a frown of concentration.
A few minutes pass. Purposely ignoring the fly, you finish the chapter. Oh, what a hook! What will happen now? You turn the page, eager to continue. Without missing a word you grope for the mug with your left hand, raise it to your lips. Ah, the drink’s still warm.
You read on. The book’s main secret is about to be revealed. You can sense it coming. You think you know, but you’re not sure. You read on, swept here and there as your characters run for their lives. Now through a forest, now facing a raging river. How will they cross? The hero is too weak -–
The buzz-against-glass abruptly stops. Zzzzzz. The fly cruises the room again. He circles your head. You wave him away, still reading. He circles once more, exploring, coming in for a closer look, invading your space. You whisk out a frustrated hand to smack him and miss. He circles. You glare at him now, your eyes following his route. Your mouth tightens; the muscles in your thighs tense. You tap a thumb against the page of your book, reading momentarily forgotten. The fly lands across the room on the television set. You poke your tongue under your upper lip as you stare at it, half daring it to move. It doesn’t.
You inhale deeply. Shift your position. Your eyes return to the page, flitting until they find where you left off. Ah, yes, the river.
You start reading. Within seconds you are again engrossed in the story. The water is rising around the couple; their nemesis is closing in. You’re still not sure of what he wants, what he will do when he reaches them. He is yelling something over the boiling waters, his voice fading in and out of the torrents. The heroine screams at him –-
The fly buzzes from the television and right by you. The sound reverberates in your ears. Then stops. You swivel your head to see the fly crawling, feeling his way with his nasty little legs along the rim of your cup. Anger spritzes your nerves. Your arm flashes out and scares him back into the air. The buzzing resumes – right in front of your nose.
“That’s it!” You throw down your book and push off the couch, seething. The ugly creature flies around the room – your room – like he owns the place. Who does he think he is, disturbing you like that? Can’t you have even one hour of peace in your own house? After all the company and hostessing and work? Can’t you just be allowed to read your book and enjoy yourself for one lousy moment?
Muttering, you swivel on your heel and head for the kitchen, in search of something, anything, to get rid of this creature once and for all. You grab a newspaper section off the kitchen table, roll it quickly and pace back into the family room, smacking it against your open palm. The fly still cruises. You lurch to a stop, your head on a constant swivel as you follow his flight. From the corner of your eye you notice that your book has fallen shut on the couch. Fresh angers jags up your chest. Now that wretched beast has caused you to lose your place!
The fly lands on the coffee table. You stride three steps and bring down the newspaper hard. Thwack. The fly lifts into the air, buzzing even harder. You exhale loudly, cursing under your breath. Fighting your own anger. You were too mad, moved too quickly. You’ll have do this steady-like, smooth. Have to think before you move.
You draw up straight, standing perfectly still, except for your head, still following the fly’s path. The newspaper rests in your palm. You like the feel of it, the deadly force it promises. Now if you can only sneak up on that fly. You even breathe quietly lest it hear you. You command control of your own body, centering your focus on killing the fly – nothing else.
You don’t stop to think that the fly is merely foraging for food he needs to exist. It doesn’t occur to you that he means you no harm, that he’s even seeking a way to get out of your house. You certainly don’t stop to think he may have family – that he may be missed once he’s dead. Such an absurd notion would not last one second within your brain. Who could possibly care about this disgusting creature? And even if someone did, he has invaded your space. He deserves to die!
The fly lands on the window. Your eyes narrow as one side of your mouth curves into a smirk. You are careful this time, oh, so careful. Stealthily, silently, you creep across the carpet. Your fingers tighten around the newspaper. You hardly dare breathe. Three more steps. Your arm begins to draw back. Two more steps. Your shoulder muscles tighten. One more step. You glide to a halt, eyes never leaving the fly. You swallow. Pull back your arm further, fingers whitening around the newspaper. Every sinew in your upper body crackles with anticipation. Then, like a launched rubberband, your arm snaps forward, the rolled newspaper whistling through the air. Thwack!! The force of the hit sends shock waves up your arm.
The fly drops like a stone.
Yes! You’ve killed him!
But wait. Do you go back to your reading? Oh, no, no. You’re not ready to be done with this deed quite yet.
You stand there, breathing hard, eyeing the dead fly. Your arm lowers, your fingers relax their grip. A slow, sick smile twists your lips. Your head tilts slightly, your eyebrows rise.
“Hah!” The word echoes in the room, hard and snide. “That’ll teach you!”
You survey your handiwork, gloating some more, vindictiveness and satisfaction swirling. The fly is such an ugly thing. Black, mangled, dirty. Couldn’t even die with dignity. It lies there, trashing up your nicely-painted windowsill. Your lip curls. How disgusting.
That fly deserved everything it got.
One thing’s for certain, you tell yourself. If any other fly comes along, you won’t waste precious time trying to ignore it. Oh, no, you’ve got the actions down now. Next time, one tiny buzz, and you’ll be off that couch, newspaper ready. It’ll be so much easier – next time.
But enough of that. Suddenly, you must rid yourself of your victim. Its very sight nauseates you. Tearing off a piece of the newspaper, you use it to pick up the body, gingerly, being careful not to touch it. No telling what sort of germs and filth it carries. You walk into the bathroom, throw it into the toilet. Flush it down. Still, you’re not quite through. You watch it swirl faster, tighter, until it finally disappears. You smack down the toilet lid.
Now you are done.
You take a breath. Where were you? What was going on in your life before you were so rudely interrupted? Ah, of course! Reading! You hurry back to your book, your mind already racing to remember where you left off. You throw yourself back onto the couch, pick up the novel, flip through pages, find your last-read sentence.
Two minutes later you are once again engrossed in the story, living and breathing along with the characters. Your house is so peaceful. Life is wonderful. You are happy.
You settle back, devouring the words. Reveling in your contentment. The fly is forgotten.
Except for within that one part of you. That one tiny, separate part that cocks an ear, stands guard over your space, protectively listening for –- you might almost say anticipating -– the buzz of the next fly . . .
Excerpted from Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors.