Sunday, October 16, 2011

Shifts in Emotional Equilibrium

In Helen Frost's new verse novel, Hidden, only Wren and Darra, two teenage girls in the same bunk at camp, know they share a secret.

It was Darra’s father who stole a car with eight year-old Wren hidden in the back six years earlier. Wren survived by staying out of sight until she could find a way to escape.

The only person who knew Wren was hidden in the garage where the car was parked, and who brought her food and water to help her endure the nightmare, was Darra.

Until this summer, neither girl has ever seen the other, except for the images of Wren that Darra watched on the TV news at the time. But that changes when the girls, both fourteen now, discover that they are bunk mates sharing nearby beds at the same summer camp.

Each girl tells the story from her own perspective, with Frost crafting two distinct poetic forms for each girl’s voice.

To capture Wren’s inner world, beginning with Wren’s story at the time of the car hijack, Frost relies on free verse. “The placement of the words on the page,” Frost says, “is something like musical notation.”

For Darra’s voice, Frost creates an entirely different poetic form, adding hidden messages for the reader to decode at the end of the long lines to shed a bit more light on Darra’s story.

These shifts in voice and perspective give the reader an insider's view into each girl’s emotional state from moment to moment so that the reader is made immediately aware of the slightest shift in emotional equilibrium.

These subtle shifts in emotional equilibrium are at the heart of the story, and as the plot unfolds the reader is able to see clearly how each girl’s emotional state propels the story forward.

Here’s an example of how Wren’s shift in emotional balance propels the story forward at the start:
I was a happy little girl wearing a pink dress,
Sitting in our gold minivan,
Dancing with my doll, Kamara.
These are the story’s opening lines, and they reveal a girl who remembers herself in a different time-frame, a different emotional state. Happiness existed, and then, because of what happened, she lost it.

And the question, from the very first line of this story, is established in the reader’s mind: will Wren find happiness again, or, if not happiness, will she find a way to come to peace with the event that turned her life upside-down?

And here’s an example of a shift in emotional balance propelling the story forward from Darra’s perspective:
For six years, I’ve tried to figure out what happened. Dad swears he
didn’t know Wren was in the garage, and Mom
claims she didn’t either. Which one of them has
lied to me for almost half my life? Someone had to let her out. I didn’t
think it was Mom, and I couldn’t get Dad to admit
it was him–so I stopped asking.
Doubt and uncertainty have haunted Darra since the incident, and she still doesn’t know the truth of what happened that day. She is living with the “lie” that she believes one of her parents told her.

Again, Frost has planted the seed of a question in the reader’s mind: will Darra find a way to resolve her uncertainty, her doubts? Will she, like Wren, ever find a way to come to peace with what happened?

Again and again, you hear writers say that you need to find the emotional core of your story’s main characters. Why? Because it’s this search for emotional resolution--this deep need to find emotional equilibrium--that compels your characters to keep searching and your reader to keep reading.

Hidden progresses from Wren’s fear and anger to compassion and understanding, and from Darra’s uncertainty and doubts to trust and friendship.

It’s a masterful example of how an author can construct a story out of the emotional needs and desires of her characters.

For more information about Frost’s Hidden, visit:

And for more information on emotional resolution in fiction, visit:

No comments: