Monday, December 5, 2011

Misdirection for emotion

I just saw a heartrending scene on TV (Law and Order, actually), which would be devastating anyway-- parents identifying the body of their slain child. But the scene made it even more excruciating. When the cover was drawn back, the mother breathes a sigh of relief and says, "It's not my baby." For a moment, there's this hope... and hope, you know, is the most dangerous emotion of all. The husband looks at her, and embraces her, and his face tells the truth-- it is indeed their son.

I'm wondering if that moment of misdirection is something we can use when we designe scenes, as long as it fits and doesn't seem contrived. (In this case, of course, we understand that the mother might wish so hard she sees what's not there, or doesn't see what is there.) The misdirection gives another moment of suspension, a gathering of dread and hope-- and then the emotion that results is that much more intense.

How can we postpone the emotional denouement to increase the power? It's all in scene design.


Wes said...

Great idea!!!!!

We can postpone the denouement by setting the scene convincingly so that the reader suspects the mother is in denial.

Very cool technique.

Scooter Carlyle said...

Any time the truth is much more horrible than what the audience first thinks is a good use of misdirection. Brandon Sanderson's good at working those kind of twists into a plot.

Jordan McCollum said...

Awesome. I *think* I've done this in one of my stories.

Also, what episode of L&O was this? Normally I can recognize the episode from just that much description, but this isn't ringing any bells. (Fave show ever.)

Edittorrent said...

That's it, Wes, the key is plausibility. It has to feel organic, not contrived.

Jordan, it was the SVU with the Romany family. On a couple weeks ago.

Scooter, that's a good rec-- I'll track down his books!