How To Use Emotion Memory

Brandilyn Collins’ has a fantastic craft book entitled Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets A Novelist Can Learn From Actors. I contacted Brandilyn to ask if I could share a ‘secret’ from her book, and she graciously agreed.

This ‘secret’ is about using your Emotion Memory. As crime writers we often have to pull from real life, twisting facts to suit our needs. For example, I’ve never murdered anyone, but I can certainly make you think I have. And this is exactly what Brandilyn discusses in this scene. She can turn anyone into a murderer, including you.

If you’d like to find out more about Brandilyn Collins and her “seatbelt suspense” novels or craft books, you can find her at: http://www.brandilyncollins.com. To buy your copy of Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets A Novelist Can Learn From Actors go here or on Amazon here.

GIC

Now sit back. Get ready to transform into a killer…

Finally, the time has come. The time set aside just for you, when the guests have waved goodbye after their weekend 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 beeline for the book, grab it from the nightstand and hurry to the family room. There, your steps slow. You want to enjoy this long-awaited time to its fullest. Tossing the book on the couch, you head for the kitchen to make your favorite hot drink to sip and savor as you read.

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 relax, your mind empties of all but the events in the novel. Once in a while you pick up your mug, sip your drink. The house is quiet save for the distance 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 no, 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 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 to never end. You’re almost done with the chapter. The evil adversary is turning to the hero and heroine, opening his mouth–

The fly buzzes against the 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 big. He is disturbing your peace, your moment. Why won’t he 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. Purposefully 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-the-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 smack at 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 stare at it, half daring it to move.

It doesn’t.

You inhale. 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 above 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, fleeing his way with his nasty little legs along the rim of your cup. Your cup! Anger kicks across 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 minute?

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 of the kitchen table, roll it, and pace back into the family room, smacking it against your palm. The fly still cruises. You lurch to 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. You were too mad, moved to quickly. You’ll have to do this steady-like, smooth. Have to think before you move.

You draw up straight, stand perfectly still, except for your head, which still follows the fly’s path. The newspaper rests in your palm. You like the feel of it, the deadly force it promises. Now if only you can 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 probably seeking a way to get out of your house. You certainly don’t stop to think that 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. 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. You 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 sinking into the newspaper. Every sinew in your upper body crackles with anticipation.

Your arm snaps forward. The newspaper whistles through the air. Thwack!! The force of the hit sends shock waves up your arm.

The fly drops like stone.

Yes! You’ve killed him!

You stand there, breathing hard, eyeing the dead fly. Your arm lowers, your fingers relax their grip. A slow, slick smile twists your lips. Your head tilts slightly, your eyebrows rise.

“Hah!” The words echo 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. 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 for now you must get rid of your victim. Its very sight nauseates you. You tear off a piece of the newspaper, and 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. 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.

Almost.

Except for within that one part of you. That one separate part that cocks an ear, stands guard over your space, protectively listening for — almost anticipating — the buzz of the next fly…

See? Killers, all.

And it’s not just the killing. It’s the sneering, cold-hearted emotion that leads up to it. Then the smirking when it’s done. Followed by the focus on the aftermath — what needs to be cleaned up?

If I can turn you into a murderer, you can turn yourself into any character you need to write. Remember, there is no emotion known to man that you have not experienced.

What did I tell you — fabulous, right?

Looking for a way to commit fictional murder? Sign up for my FREE booklet 50 Ways To Murder Your Fictional Characters. Or, get a taste of what you’ll find inside here.

12 Comments

  1. So great – I just used this exercise to help me justify killing a spider. 🙂

  2. Utterly brilliant. I felt ever single freaking emotion I was supposed to experience wrung out of me. I’m feeling exhausted.

    And also looking for a fly-swatter 😉

  3. Lol – brilliant! 😀

    I’m reminded of the story of a Zen master. A fly buzzes around him in the room. He reaches for his sword. His students gape in awe as he flicks the blade in the air, then gasp as the fly buzzes out of the window.

    “Master, the fly is still alive,” one of the students says, barely hiding his disappointment.
    The Master nods. “Yes, but he’s never having sex again.”

  4. Cute way to demonstrate the building of tension.

  5. I love this scenario, Sue! We’ve all had the experience of killing bugs that irritated us. Why not turn that inito a resource for writing a killer? The same is true for our other experiences too. For instance, I’ll bet a lot of people have had the experience of getting caught by a storm. Why not use that emotional memory to set up really effective plot complication? Lots of other possibilities there, too.

    • Love your example! It’s so true. We can use emotion memory to create an unsavory characters, or anyone different than ourselves. That’s why I loved this bug scenario so much. It shows how easy it is to draw from life experiences. It’s such a good book. I highly recommend it.

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