Monday, August 15, 2011

Practial Emotional Structure Part 2--Is everything in sync?

Recently, I've been working on emotional structure—something I've been interested in since Dunne's book—wow, has it been four years? It fascinated me, because it wasn't, and to an extent, still isn't something people talk about. Writing was more about how to construct a neatly tied off plot and make sure my settings were layered with sensory detail. I still remember the old axiom—make sure you use all five senses, and the other even older ax, the character interview sheet. The idea that there was a way to manipulate emotion startled me. Over the years, I've moved away from Dunne's more structured approach, and settled into pre-thinking.

I've had Katy's backstory for a few weeks, saving it for when I had the chance to look at it. It's interesting, not just because it went where I thought it'd go. While I understand Velma is a gently reared woman of good birth, there's still a disconnect between what happened, and understanding what drives her. She was sexually assaulted and traumatized to the extent her life changed course almost instantly. Everything she is and becomes, flows out of this one instant in time. 

Let's take a look at the backstory *warning* while this isn't extremely graphic, it "is" graphic, and I'm going to drop some spaces to give anyone who might be offended time to opt out.

The redhead nodded and a sudden flurry of black capes swirled and snapped as the other four men surrounded her, cutting off her view of the door. Panic choked Velma as it became clear these were no true gentlemen.

Rough hands groped and pinched her as she was passed back and forth between them like a child's rag doll. Her limbs refused to cooperate and she stumbled. Surprise and shock paralyzed her voice making it impossible to cry out.

After allowing his cronies a few minutes of rough play while he watched with a hungry gleam in his eyes, the redhead commanded, "Leave us."

When the men retreated a couple steps, Velma tried to duck past the leader, but he caught hold of her. His fingers clamped around her wrist like an iron band. She swallowed a yelp of pain when he squeezed tighter.

"Such a sweet sound. You'll stay with me." He turned to the others and barked, "Go."

The man, she refused to call him a gentleman now, pushed her roughly against the wall beyond the French doors. The shadows pooled deeper here. They stood well out of sight of the ballroom. Velma swallowed hard as his hands traced the seams of her gown, reproducing that creepy sensation of an insect walking across one's skin. 

When she opened her mouth to yell for help, his mouth clamped over hers, his lips loose and his tongue driving between her teeth. This was no sweet, tantalizing kiss. Instead, it promised harsh punishment. She couldn't imagine what she'd done to deserve such treatment.

She could only wonder why Lord Clinton had handed her over to his old school chum. His earlier notice and attentions had signaled a completely different set of expectations. Was she such a failure at reading a man's character, then?

Her predicament demanded her complete attention as the more she struggled and the harder she fought against the redhead, the tighter his grip became and the more forcefully he plundered her mouth. 

Resistance became an exercise in futility. Writhing beneath him in an attempt to loosen his grip merely seemed to reveal more places for him to pinch and stroke through her gown. Places she didn't even dare touch. Not even in the bath. Bile rose in her throat when his fingers pried her legs apart and he wedged his hand against her most private spot, pumping it back and forth in a crude fashion.

Velma and Evilstoke are a core event. His sexual assault changes Velma. However, the extent of change is dependent on the magnitude of the event.

Ie.? I've always liked chicken. I particularly like chicken thighs, because I grew up in Hawaii and the #5 box of chicken thighs is something everyone had in their freezer. One day my kid—the vegetarian—pointed out all those chewy black and red tubes near the bone were veins. I'd always known that but until she sat there—staring at me, talking about chicken veins, I'd never really "looked". I was pretty grossed out.

It was my "chicken" core event.

Nowadays I bone the chicken first and make sure there aren't any veins. It's a small change on my part and makes the chicken easier to cook. On the other hand, I don't freeze at the sight of Kentucky Fried. The fact that I had a mouthful of vein when I connected the idea chicken veins=stringy purple tubes, was yuck, but didn't traumatize me.

The magnitude of the event was low.

If I wanted to scar myself and shudder at the sight of the Colonel, I'd need to increase both the magnitude and my reaction. Maybe I inhaled a piece of chicken into an airway while my kid was telling me about the veins and came down with aspiration pneumonia where the bacteria from the chicken put an abscess in my lungs. Hacking up green snot, can't breathe, fever, chills, fatigue. You can bet from the minute I got off antibiotics until the day I died, I'd have something against chicken. Especially if I had to have a tube inserted so they could pull the chicken out.

Now let's take it sideways and check my reaction. I'd probably have issues with chicken a little beyond "yuck" and a preference for boned chicken, but since it was my fault I swallowed the wrong way, I'd probably just shrug it off as something that happened and I dealt with.

The magnitude is bigger, but my reaction is pragmatic. I'm upset, but it's not something I can't handle. Katy cranked the magnitude for Evilstoke's assault on Velma, but like me, Velma can deal with it.

"Velma?" Persephone's voice called from the doorway. "Are you out here?"

The brute pulled back to curse and Velma wrestled free of his grip. The sound of tearing fabric rent the quiet of the night.

"Over here."

With another curse, this one fouler than the last, her assailant turned and slipped through the next set of French doors down the terrace.

"Velma? What are you doing out here alone?"

"I needed some air." 

"But your ruffle's torn. What happened? Weren't you waltzing with the gentleman I left you with?"

"Ha! What kind of gentleman abandons a girl on the terrace and sends his old school chums out to keep her warm for him?"

Through her bitter tears, Velma explained how she'd felt so wonderfully alive during the waltz and even when he'd kissed her. Persephone's smile changed to a worried frown as Velma described the redhead and the humiliation she'd suffered at his hands.

"Oh, my. First thing we need to do is go repair that ruffle. Then we can go find you another partner. No redheads, I promise."

"I can't go back in there. I can't face him again." She didn't know which him she meant and wasn't sure it really mattered. "I just want to go home."

"Do you want to go find your mother?"

"Heavens, no." Her mother would never understand why she'd been tempted to behave so recklessly. And all she wanted to do was push the vile memories away, not share them all over again. Her mortification was still too raw.

"Here, take this. That should cover your torn ruffle." Persephone took charge of the situation, wrapping her cloak around Velma's shoulders. "We can find Lady Harris let her find our mothers to tell them I've taken you home with a splitting headache. As hot and crowded as it is in there, no one will gainsay us."

Velma hugged her friend and pulled up the hood that surely matched her cheeks before stepping into the ballroom. She refused to make eye contact with anyone and hugged the walls until they reached their host and made their excuses. Lady Harris promised to find their mothers and summoned a footman to fetch a carriage for them. 

Velma managed to keep her roiling emotions under control until they were bundled into the carriage and on their way. Only then, did she bury her face in Persephone's shoulder and allow herself to sob unchecked.

She's upset, but she's still using complete sentences and has the brain power to explain what happened in detail and categorize the experience as mortifying. Velma is a strong individual and I'm sure once she comes to grips with making a stupid move like going out on the terrace with a stranger, she'll be fine.

As a core event, it's maybe a five on a ten point scale. Bad—but not bad enough to cripple her.

Now, let's look at how we want Velma to turn out. 

Must be terrified of masques. Must have a serious grudge against Clinton. Changed from the radiant person Clinton first saw to a woman who—years later—only bears a passing resemblance to her old self. She beats herself up over her mistake constantly, remembers every detail.

And this is where the problem is.

What Velma experienced, how she deals with it, the fall out, and follow-thru fall on two different sides of a line.

The incident itself is traumatic.
The fall out.

How she deals with it.
Her follow-thru.

The incident has the potential to be traumatizing. "But" she deals with it in a pragmatic way that shows me she's in control. Even when Evilstoke is forcing himself on her, her brain is working. When we see her in the story, she's intro'd as burning an invitation. A nicely cold-blooded move. She then weighs the pros and cons of giving into her mother's desire to attend the ball.

Later, she talks to Persephone and says she's going to puke, can't let go of the past, has a flashback and a good long cry with hiccups. Still later, she shows up for a pre-masque dinner, and is cold toward Clinton. It's balanced between "I'm so messed up" and "It happened, it changed my outlook, I don't like Clinton, masques or socializing." She's flip-flopping emotionally and making herself look like a character with emotions added on afterwards to work with a pre-determined plot.

There are two ways this can go.

One, Katy can take out the hysterics, sobbing and crying and make Velma a capable woman who, of her own free will, decides society isn't for her. But…she'd have to give her other interests, because otherwise it just seems odd for her to be hanging out with her mom when she's pragmatic enough to find a nice landowner and raise babies in the country. Maybe she decides she likes managing a household and her mother can't be bothered? Or maybe she likes city life, the lending libraries, shows and sedate parties.

I like this option, because as written, once we get past the beginning, Velma is fairly self-possessed.

Or two, we can explore Velma's emotions during her first masque, see how they'd get warped by the incident with Evilstoke and extend that into the present.

The story would get darker and more intimate, and some people don't deal well with angst.

Which pretty much means—regardless of what I think about a story and where I'd like it to go, emotional structure needs to work with the author's vision for the story. The reason I asked Katy to write out the backstory is because it's important to see how the author views a core event.

And for that, let's go back to Mercedes (from one of the earliest core event posts) and look at her core event. The fire that almost kills her and her little sisters.

When I think about Mercedes sitting outside while the fire guts her house, holding on to her little sisters (the kids she hated beyond reason for replacing her in her mother's life) "knowing" that they loved her enough to value rescuing her more than what little they owned, including their stuffed animals--I see pain, guilt, love and hate. Emotions strong enough to create the woman who'll kick down walls to get her sisters back when they're kidnapped. It's all a kaleidoscope. 

I view the event as a nightmare of fire, smoke, screaming, sirens, and above all, Mercedes holding these kids, her mouth tight, crying very quiet.

For Katy:
She's covered in slobber and bruised, but she doesn't scrub at her mouth or puke.
Was Velma scarred by her encounter with Evilstoke? Or did she discover her inner strength? 
Is the tone of your story (not what it is, but what you "see" it as) dark or light?


JulieD said...

holy carp-fish.

i've read this through twice and am still trying to digest it all.

hmm. will have to further explore my own character's reasons for being screwed up. great post, as usual!

Hailey Edwards said...

I'm going to have to re-read this and absorb after I move past the chicken vein thing. You hit on something that drives my husband nuts about me. I won't eat chicken on the bone or dark meat or anything remotely vein-y. Sorry, I'm ever off-topic. ;)

The bit about Mercedes speaks to me. I have just such a character, and I think something shook loose when I read that paragraph. Hmm.

jodi said...

thanks, Julie! I'm finally hitting the integration point, you know? :)

Hailey--I so totally see the veins in things nowadays. I love me some steak (the fatty kind, it's the Asian in me) and just the sight of tubes grosses me out. *sigh* My daughter the vegetarian.

I love Mercedes. I know her so well. :) One day she'll show up and want her own book. :)