Background/scene for question:

A character witnesses his wife killed before him. While holding her, he begins screaming her name. With each time he utters her name, the world around him shifts as he uses magic he was previously unaware of.

The world shifts because he is using magic that is not of this world, ripping it from another world to revive his dead wife. The shift is like the difference felt right after an earthquake where nothing feels quite right. There are no physical changes, but you just know something is different. Like a shudder in the air.

(These shudders will slowly affect and change how the world works later in the novel)

This "shudder" is felt strongly every time he screams her name until she is finally revived much to her displeasure.

Now the question:

I am asking how I can show this shift that is happening in the air around him, in this particular scene, in a believable way that makes sense to the reader?

I am hoping other writers may have knowledge of this sort of scene.

  • 1
    Have you tried writing a draft, and seeing whether it's likely to make sense to the reader?
    – Standback
    Aug 31, 2014 at 12:54

3 Answers 3


Monica is on the right track, but I'd push it more. If he's howling the name of his murdered wife in his grief, he's not aware of anything outside that grief.

I would actually not show the husband being aware of the changes while they're happening. Maybe, possibly, flashes of light (which cast different shadows on her face), or he feels his ears pop, or the floor tilts — basically, alterations in the physical world which he can't overlook because they are interacting with him.

But the "muffled traffic" is something you notice when you're reading, not when your heart has been shattered.

However, there could be other people in the room who do notice the changes, and once the wife wakes up, the other characters could start wondering aloud if the changes in atmosphere were related to her resurrection. Or the husband distantly realizing "my ears popped" is the other characters saying "the entire building just levitated two hundred feet and then dropped" or something.

  • 2
    I have tried writing a draft, it is in third person POV, but it was missing something. Both you and Monica have given me a lot of food for thought, that I believe will answer my question beautifully. I would like to thank you for this. I would have favorited both if possible, but your answer added the extra oomph to Monica's that I needed as well. Thanks again. Sep 1, 2014 at 2:28

I can't call specific examples to mind right now, but I've seen this sort of "wait, the world is not quite as it should be" situation handled by sharing the POV character's inner dialogue as he gradually notices peculiarities. Something like this:

"Sharon, no!" he shouted to no one in particular as he cradled her in his arms. "Sharon!" He shuddered as he began to absorb the shock of it, then shuddered again. What was that odd feeling?

"Sharon!" he repeated. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead. Why was it suddenly so warm in here? And quiet -- the sounds of the traffic outside seemed muffled. He shook his head to clear it.

Nope, definitely getting warmer. Stuffier, too. It almost felt like the walls were closing in on him. Gotta knock off the coffee, he thought.

He looked again at the lifeless body in his lap. How could they have snatched her away from him? It was wrong! Unfair! Nearly shouting, irrationally hoping he could yet bring her back, he screamed -- "Sharon!"


The point I'm trying to make is that we get hints as the main character gets "that niggling feeling" that things are Not Right, but he's focused on something else so his tendency is to dismiss them -- his head is fuzzy from the shock, he's had too much coffee, etc. The reader will figure out that things are changing before the character does, and then will get the pleasure of watching the character work it out.

  • 4
    Actually, given that he just saw his wife being killed, the most natural thing he could attribute it to is that very fact. So the world seems wrong, but he thinks it seems wrong because his wife is dead. The wind suddenly feels too cold, but he thinks that's because he misses the warmth of his wife. The bright blue of the sky suddenly looks unnatural, but he rationalizes that it's because a friendly sky colour just doesn't match his current feelings.
    – celtschk
    Aug 31, 2014 at 18:00
  • @celtschk and all of that would make sense an hour, a day, a week from now. In this moment he's still in the denial stage. He's way too far into shock to be aware of the color of the sky right now. Sep 1, 2014 at 12:17

As has been said by others, it sort of depends on the perspective. This might be troubling to write in first person for the exact reason mentioned - the character is probably not paying attention. In that case, you might be better off having him revisit the experience in a flashback later. However, if we're dealing with any other perspective, I think it's reasonable to present things happening that the character might not be aware of but that are happening around them.

To answer the question of how to present that, assuming it does make sense in your context, I would suggest to keep it as simple as possible. Here is an example I just wrote in my third-person-objective story of this same sort of general situation happening:

[Clover is in the office of Starswirl, inside the university.]

“You've already picked your side: the losing side. Have fun with that,” Starswirl said.

A flash of blue light enveloped Clover and he stood on the purple street of the Whitehorn Road, in front of the university gate. He turned around, almost ready to run back into the university, but merely remained in place.

“I did not betray you! You betrayed me!” He yelled. Only the gate guards noticed and chose to ignore him.

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