15 February 2013

Emotional Setting In Your Story

I've decided to use some contrast and comparison techniques in a setting for chapter 8 of my WIP. One of the reasons for this is to try and stage the emotional process of an upcoming scene which happens to be an autopsy of a murdered college student.

What I don't want to happen is for the reader to view my protagonist as an unaffected, stoic police woman who, by nature of her work, would have the strength to withstand the emotional impact of certain situations which normal people would find disturbing. The police must be strong and professional, but at the same time, if they are protagonists, they must be liked.

So, where’s the setup? It's in the setting. I use the senses and innocence of small children and their actions to contrast the evils which lie ahead. I also use a subtle comparison of the living to the dead for another emotional transition. It is not the officer who is cold and stoic, but death itself.

Whether or not effective, I hope to hear one way or the other from my critique group next month. And you, of course. Please comment and let me know if it works or not.

Here's the segue into chapter 8 of my WIP:

The CafĂ© on the first level of Bradbury Memorial Hospital set itself aside from the rest of the building. If Kelly had walked into the small shop blindfolded, she would have thought she’d discovered a cake factory. The aroma of Colombian blend, mixed with caramel and brown sugar, swirled about while she made her way to the coffee station. She’d given herself a ten minute start before meeting Lyle for the autopsy of Jennifer Whorley.

She watched two small children chase each other around a table. A large woman in a wheelchair, her leg in a cast, called out to them in a southern drawl. “Ya’ll set your asses down.”

They giggled, then shrieked, but didn't sit.

“Do like your mama said!” belted out the tall man in biker gear. He had finished wheeling the woman up to the table.

The kids sat down in plastic, bucket seats. Still piping with energy, they touched each other’s arms, alternating turns.

“You’re it,” the boy said.

“No, you’re it.”

The innocence played out before her and the pit of Kelly’s stomach ached. The horrors which lurked should never occur to these children. They were protected from it. Or did it simply hide for now? Far gone were the days where there were no fears. Evil did not exist.

“You’re early.”

Kelly spun around to find Lyle holding two Styrofoam cups with cardboard sleeves around them. “Coffee?” he said. He walked with her to the condiments corner. “Are you up to this?”

“I’ll be okay.” Kelly poured some sugar in her cup and used two sticks to mix it.

“This your first autopsy?”

She avoided eye contact, “I had an infant a year ago. Died in his crib.”

“The babies are tough,” a standard response from her colleague. He checked his watch. “Ready?”

Kelly downed the last of her coffee and together they made their way to the base level above the parking garage, where Jennifer Whorley’s cold, lifeless body awaited their scrutiny.

This is still in draft, so feel free to pick it apart!


  1. It's spare, but that's what makes it work well. You say a lot in just a few lines, and the mindset of Kelly comes across. I think it's the taking a deep breath before going in, for her, and for the reader.

    I had a police officer in my MS who had to give bad news to a father in the first chapter, and comes back in the present day. From his point of view, he was thinking of his children while giving that news.

    They might not show it, but they certainly feel it.

    1. I guess I feel a need to do it because a lot of people just believe that the law has no feelings whatever. I just like it when I can tell it from the other side.


  2. Ooh someone slap that biker guy! How dare he intervene! Very nice Diane.

    1. I feel like I should have had him wearing ass chaps. lol

  3. Have you been getting a ton of spam, too? It's totally destroyed my blog stats. Somewhat freeing, since now I have no idea how many true views I've gotten! Anyway, I thought you did a nice job with the beginnings of the scene. Using her point-of-view thoughts about the children allows us to see her feelings, but she can keep her tough-girl exterior. And, to me, that makes her more vulnerable. I kind of want to protect her from the evil she knows about, that the kids don't yet. It was effective for me!

    1. Thank you, Lara! Yes, I'm getting a ton of spam lately. I go into my comments section and categorize Anonymous postings as spam because it's easier than deleting them and having to confirm.

      I'm thinking about not allowing anonymous comments anymore, but the last time I did that, it screwed up my numbers (I can't help it, but I'm a numbers person). It's my OCD. :D

  4. I really liked this! It's simple but effective. Good job.

    1. Kudos to you, Diane, for posting a first-draft scene. The characterization is excellent and I can see myself (as the reader) sitting nearby, watching and listening to the others.

      I have two minor suggestions.

      The sentence: Two small children chased each other around a table. This is told rather than shown. Perhaps Kelly could step aside to avoid colliding into them, which would bring it back into her viewpoint.

      I love when the biker dude says: "Do like your mama said!" But I would like to see some emotion on the kids faces when they sit down. Are they afraid or shocked that a stranger has scolded them.

      Your dialogue is natural and the beats (action after dialogue) add interest. Well done!

    2. Thank you, Cynthia. I like your suggestions!

      I probably need to make it more clear that the biker dude is the father or boyfriend. You're right, he appears to be a stranger in this case. Maybe Kelly's internal thought could be that she wonders if he's the kids real father or some live in boyfriend.

      I appreciate the feedback!

  5. The WIP sounds terrific. Love how much thought you're putting into the juxtapositions. I can already feel them in your sample.

    1. Thanks Lauren! I keep telling people I'm putting way too much thought into what I write and I think that's why I can't ever finish anything! lol

      I appreciate your feedback, too. :)

  6. Being a coffee addict, I must first say the beginning of the scene had my mouth watering. Coffee...mmmm. Anyway, this is a great sample. The mingling of the children's innocence and the task awaiting Kelly evokes a strong sense of despondency for me as a reader. It's like at the moment Kelly is surrounded by life bursting with energy, yet she knows how quickly that life can end. She is understandably reluctant to perform an autopsy on a child who should be as living as energetically as the children in front of her.

    I'd also like to add I like the use of the word scrutiny. It's invasive, and it makes me consider the evil that's been done to the child lying on the cold table. It's wrong. It's so wrong. It's a child who should be outside playing in the sunlight.

    Good job! :)

    1. Thank you, Charity! I"m a coffee person myself, can drink up to 5 cups during a work day. And then, there's the occasional sugar-free Red Bull. :)

      I'm glad you picked out the word scrutiny, too. I thought it might have been too deliberate that I used it, but if it works, I'm happy!

  7. Love it. Your setting up of the contrast between what she's seeing and what she has to do is terrific. The scene comes across with so much vividness that I can feel her feeling - and cringe for her.

    I have just one problem. Third sentence - I get a picture of the coffee itself dancing around the room, and it stops me. I could accept the aroma dancing, but not the coffee, caramel, etc. Just call me picayunish

    1. Thank you, Judi! That word "dancing" will definitely come out. I even mention a similar peeve in my 10 Pet Peeves of the Romance Novel. The very first peeve is when "his eyes danced across her bosom". lol

      Thanks for the feedback!

  8. A character named Kelly? Love it! ;) I really like the technique you used here too, Diane. Thanks for sharing how you did it and the end product.

    1. Yes, Kelly is my protagonist! :D

      Glad you like it.


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