Thursday, 27 July 2006

More punching

Okay, here's a little bit from "Her Parenthood Assignment" to illustrate what I think of as echoing and shadowing. (Someone else may have a completely different take on it, but so what!) Here's some blurb so you know what you're reading:

Luke Armstrong has spent five years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. And things don’t get any easier when he’s pardoned. He has to get to know an eleven-year-old daughter he barely knows.

Divorced Gaby Michaels is breaking out of her former role as a corporate wife to return to being a nanny. She agrees to take care of Luke’s difficult daughter, even though she knows she has a problem keeping her professional distance.

But this time it’s not the child she falls for—it’s the boss! And Luke is secretly entranced by the ordinary-looking woman who has the extraordinary ability do the warm and fuzzy stuff he’s long forgotten.

* * *

Luke tugged frantically on the strings of the kite, but it was too late. It fell out of the air and crashed on to the deserted beach. He sighed and trudged towards it. Gaby might be a bit of a shrinking violet at times, but she could talk an Eskimo into buying snow, and what’s more, he’d love her for it!

This outing to the beach with Heather had been her idea. You’re not working this Sunday, she’d said. The weather report says it’s going to be sunny, but windy, she’d said. Great weather for flying kites. Heather would love it…

And before he knew it, he was buying a multi-coloured contraption in town and spending his Sunday afternoon watching it nose-dive into the shingle again and again.

Heather had lost interest after ten minutes. So now he was left to keep up the pretence while she and Gaby wandered along the shore, arm in arm, and collected shells and bits of quartz.

He stopped to watch them. They were deep in conversation, sharing girl-type secrets, no doubt. His heart squeezed a little. Gaby had made such a difference to their home in the last three weeks. He still had to duck when Heather was in a foul mood, but more and more she was laughing and smiling, and he’d even caught her singing to herself.

He could see glimpses of the happy little girl she’d once been. That same cheeky smile she’d had, aged three, when she knew she’d said something funny or cute. They way she stroked a strand of her own hair when she was tired.

And it was all down to Gaby. He couldn’t take credit for the tiniest bit of it. All he managed was to stretch his mouth into a smile when it was required, and to say the right things—as if he were reading from a script—and watch his daughter blossom.

Gaby was getting closer and closer to Heather and, miracle of miracles, Heather was letting her.

And, all the while, he stayed on the fringes and watched. He was just as much on the outside of his daughter’s life as he’d been all those years behind bars. Why he couldn’t work his way into the centre—where all the laughter and warmth was—was more than he could fathom.

He watched as Gaby and Heather broke into a run and chased each other along the edge of the surf. The wind was cold and it blew their scarves in front of their faces, which only made them laugh all the more.

How did she do it? The woman he’d thought at first seemed ordinary, nothing special, had the ability to reach out to a heart and see it respond. A very rare thing indeed. He caught himself studying her, trying to work out what her secret was, where all that warmth and courage came from.

He alternated between admiring her and hating her for it.

He tore his gaze away and returned it to the kite lying a short distance away on the small, round pebbles. It seemed injured, lying there fluttering half-heartedly. He walked over and surveyed it with dismay.

The two figures walking along the shore hadn’t even seen it crash.

It was all in a tangle and he didn’t know what to do with it.

* * *

The emotional hit is that even though Luke's daughter is healing from her ordeal, he seems incapable of it. He feels just as much on the outside as he always did. The fact he can't fly the kite either echoes this.

In the last three paragraphs I've used the image of the damaged kite to reflect Luke's emotional state:

"He tore his gaze away and returned it to the kite lying a short distance away on the small, round pebbles. It seemed injured, lying there fluttering half-heartedly." (Luke is also injured and floundering)

"The two figures walking along the shore hadn’t even seen it crash. " (Luke is alone and no one knows how much he is struggling).

"It was all in a tangle and he didn’t know what to do with it." (it's Luke who is in a tangle and doesn't know how to remedy the situation)

I find I use this technique quite a bit. sometimes it's more obvious, like the kite example, and sometimes it's more subtle and nobody else might spot it. But I hope that, almost subconsicously, it helps the atmosphere of the scene.


Sue aka MsCreativity said...

Fiona, this is great! I can really see and feel the emotion. Is this from the book you have coming out in December? I can't wait to read more of your writing.

Fiona Harper said...

Thanks, Ms Creativity! That bit was from the one out March 2007 (book number 2). Book one is very upbeat, book two is more of a heart-strings job. I think both are emotional - just in different ways.

Anonymous said...

Ah, I get it. It's all to do with symbolism. Thanks for a great explanation, Fiona


Michelle said...

That's really interesting! Thanks so much for sharing.

And thank you, also, for your kind words on my blog. I really appreciate the encouragement.

Fiona Harper said...

janet, I think symbolism can be one way of doing it. In the "You've Got Mail" example it was all about dialogue.

If you want to see another example, watch "Pretty Woman" - the scene where Richard Gere asks Julia Roberts to be his mistress and he'll put her up in a condo. She refuses, saying she wants the fairytale. It's the last couple of lines of the scene that screw the punch and all they do is sum up what's happened alrady in the scene in two brief sentences:

RG: I never treated you like a prostitute. (He leaves)
JR: You just did.


Phillipa said...

Fiona - lovely extract. You are very good at analysing your work - you'd make a great tutor! I think a lot of writers do this but don't realise it. Do you think it's really another form of 'showing not telling?'

Fiona Harper said...

Eeek! Tutoring? Maybe in a decade or so when I've learned a bit more. I still feel such a newbie.

Having said that, I do enjoy teaching. I earned my living as a dance teacher many moons ago and I teach an evening course in theology. Something to chew on.