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The Trappings and Suits of Woe

Let's get into the Objective Correlative
¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I believe the Objective Correlative is likely my big gun. As a plot device for deepening emotions and building senses of atmosphere -- opening the reader up to immersion, it has no peer. 

The term sounds more complex than it actually is: ‘objective’ in this sense, means universally applicable or relatable, while ‘correlative’ simply denotes ‘something with correlates’ or, if you prefer, something that corresponds. And it plays well with other Rhetoric Devices.

Bob, our MC is going through his morning. His body language and voice and words are active, up, and focused on possibilities. But inside, he's coming apart because his wife is sleeping with a Civil Servant. We want to convey this to the reader, without saying. "Bob is dying inside." We want to show not tell. 

There are many ways to do this, and if you know them use them too. Layering Rhetorical Devices across the surface of a chapter draws the reader down, as effectively as the dead-light-eyes of the ghostly dead floating under the surface of the bog in the Two Towers

The office plant in the lunch room is dead. Dried up and shriveled. The soil looks rich and wholesome, but the plant is atrophied. Because of the glare coming through his office windows into the main meeting area, his blinds are closed, darkening his space. On his desk is a single bulb lamp lighting the area of his keyboard. The air-conditioning is off because there is black mold in the vents. In the meeting room where they are brainstorming ideas, the black mold sparks the idea of the Cordyceps fungus  which takes over insects through mind control; turning ants into zombie slaves. 

None of these alone is going to do much. But four or five Objectives, Correlating with Bob's insides will get the mood across. The reader will feel it through the setting. 

We are looking for symbolism. We are looking for subtle atmosphere. We are looking for color and texture. When used in contrast against a prevalent sleight of art or affected plot device, the effectiveness is greatly increased. 

To blow it up, to remove all art and abstraction, imagine going to an interview for your dream job. You are killing it. You also have diarrhea. If this meeting doesn't end soon, everyone will know. The watercooler is bubbling. The three interviewers are smiling, one of them has something green in his teeth. 

There's no end to how these can be used. The guiding words are contrast, and purpose. 

What do you want the reader to feel during a scene? That's the question we're answering. While we can perform many methods of conjuration, it is better to have a purpose and to hold to the line. 

Let's look over the first Paragraph of Steven King's IT. Published in 1986

The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years—if it ever did end — began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.  The boat bobbed, listed, righted itself again, dived bravely through treacherous  whirlpools, and continued on its way down witcham street toward the traffic light  which marked the intersection of witcham and jackson. The three vertical lenses  on all sides of the traffic light were dark this afternoon in the fall of 1957, and the  houses were all dark, too. There had been steady rain for a week now, and two days  ago the winds had come as well. most sections of derry had lost their power then,  and it was not back on yet.  a small boy in a yellow slicker and red galoshes ran cheerfully along beside the  newspaper boat. The rain had not stopped, but it was finally slackening. it tapped  on the yellow hood of the boy’s slicker, sounding to his ears like rain on a shed roof… a comfortable, almost cozy sound. The boy in the yellow slicker was George Denbrough. He was six. His brother, William, known to most of the kids at Derry  Elementary School (and even to the teachers, who would never have used the nick-  name to his face) as Stuttering Bill, was at home, hacking out the last of a nasty case of influenza. In that autumn of 1957, eight months before the real horrors  began and twenty-eight years before the final showdown, Stuttering Bill was ten  years old.  Bill had made the boat beside which George now ran. he had made it sitting up in bed, his back propped against a pile of pillows, while their mother played Für Elise on the piano in the parlor and rain swept restlessly against his bedroom window. 

There are several Objective Correlatives in this single paragraph. King masterfully sets the emotional stage as well as the readers internal tone. All of them and the other devices used are contrasted against the abject innocent joy of George and his yellow rain jacket (bright, plastic canvas. it helps you see him) clopping through the puddles and the gutters in pursuit of his newspaper boat. 

1957. Twice in one paragraph he places 1957. Not the mid 50s or the 50s as a whole. But 1957. For his readers, at the time of this publishing, 1957 would have been fairly fresh in the mind. 

Information for Asian Flu pandemic 1956-1957

Caused by mutation in wild ducks combining with a pre-existing human strain of Flu
1956 Spring Avian influenza Pandemic originates in China Category 2 ( 0.1% to 0.5% population affected )
1957 The Final Death toll in the US thought to be close to 70,000
World wide the death toll thought to be in excess of 1 million

1957 saw the continued growth of bigger taller tail fins on new cars and more lights, bigger with more powerful engines and an average car sold for $2,749. The Soviet Union launched the first space satellite Sputnik 1. Movies included "Twelve Angry Men" and "The Bridge Over the River Kwai", and TV showed "Perry Mason" and "Maverick" for the first time. The music continued to be Rock and Roll with artists like "Little Richard". The popular toys were Slinkys and Hula Hoops. The continued growth of the use of credit was shown by the fact that 2/3 of all new cars were bought on credit. Some of the areas that would cause problems later were starting to show South Vietnam is attacked by Viet Cong Guerrillas and Troops are sent to Arkansas to enforce anti segregation laws.

He’s using 1957 as an objective correlative; as a tone setter. The boy is laughing, the boat is soaking up rain and getting heavy, heading for the drain. Everything is gray and swollen. 

A while back I wrote a post titled Do Curse Words Serve a Purpose. I fervently wish I had ascribed more importance to the efficacy. Circumstances at the time promoted the slap-dash approach to blogging. As long as ninety percent of what was slung stuck to the page, the post publish button was hit and my attention was already arriving at its new point of interest. But I didn't and I haven't. Still, it is worthy of a gander.


“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.

Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”

-- Gary Provost




















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