The Growl Under Your Bed Part 3: Darkness
So I'm awake in the dark with a few choices: stay in bed and try to sleep, read, play a video game, watch a movie, or get on with the day and write.
Writing wins. It's my way of securing a future. It puts me in a good mood (though today that will be trying). So I begin. The news, which I have playing the background because I like to start out my day seeing what's burning (this time it's the Thailand stock exchange -- go fire!), reports of a body being found in a suitcase. I incorporate that into my story. It's just a tossed out reference that my narrator makes, but he uses it to describe the fact that he has no clue as to why criminals do what they do. He has no understanding of it, despite everyone thinking he does. He uses that incident to exemplify his ignorance of what makes people tick.
At this point in the story, that doesn't really matter. His lack of understanding of human psychology will, however, prove to be important in later chapters, as he comes up against something he cannot even begin to hope to understand, and readers (hopefully) will get my point that if you don't understand someone you can sometimes be manipulated by your own ignorance. In some cases you just end up sleeping with some guy who doesn't care one bit about you, but you thought otherwise. Other times it's more serious.
What's coming up will be more serious.
I used this story of the body in the suitcase not because it was gruesome (I gave little in the way of details), but because it happens quite often. People are killed and packed away like clothes for a vacation, and then left behind. Someone finds the suitcase and usually two thoughts go through the person's head: body or money. The good and the bad. It's happened enough to almost be mundane in world of crime. I used it because it is so common and it is a common event that the narrator -- the reader's guide in the story -- can't comprehend. At this point in time, this should not bother readers. In fact, I believe few would think anything of it. Later, however, this ignorance will prove to be maddening as the reader can see what is coming, but the narrator will remain clueless.
Halloween, that John Carpenter classic, has a great scene in it where our hero, the always lovely Jamie Lee Curtis who now stays regular with the help of Activa, believes she has killed Michael Myers. She is sitting in a doorway, hysterical. Up until this point the film's narrative has been from her point of view really. You are with her, most of the time, as she experiences these awful nasty things. At this point in the movie, though, Carpenter pulls a fast one on the audience. Curtis is in focus on the screen. In the background, out of focus, Myers slowly sits up and turns his head toward Curtis (and, it should be noted, the audience). You are no longer seeing things from Curtis' point of view. You are the outsider, on the other side of sound proof glass. You can see what is coming, you can scream all you want, but she can't hear you. It fills the audience with a sense of dread. (And at the time, you rarely saw this kind of thing happen in movies.) It's a great scene, one that ups the emotional ante the audience has in the movie. What was horrifying entertainment just moments ago now becomes a race for survival, and you are powerless to help.
I want my manuscript to reach that point. I won't do it purposely, or it probably won't work right. I will be conscious of that switch, however. It will be written before I realize what I've done, but once I see that I've done it, I will be free to ramp up the anxiety level. The readers will, hopefully (if I did my job right), have become emotionally invested by that point, and there will be no turning back from the train wreck that is about to ensue.
It's a good feeling, and I hope I can pull it off just as well as Carpenter did. If not, I failed.