Popping along in our alphabetic tour… we’re on E! So let’s talk about that thing that helps keep a reader’s attention… Emotion!
This is one of those story elements that is both super obvious and super difficult to tackle. On one hand, I’m sitting here nodding and thinking “yes, of course my story needs to hit an emotional arc in order to be satisfying and complete, and the characters need an emotional arc that makes sense in each scene, and nobody is going to care unless this is all in there!” On the other hand, I’m poking at each thing and saying to myself “Did I do this right?” Not always easy!
For example, let’s say that I want my character to hate someone at the beginning of a story and then express their undying love for them later. This is a familiar trope in romantic plots, and I (personally) feel works best when spread out over several scenes or an entire novel. When such a big change of heart happens, the character usually needs a reason for that switcheroo. My character might change their mind because they find out that they were totally wrong about whatever they hated about the other person, or they misinterpreted a key little tidbit that started the whole hate-parade. Also, the other person has to be really forgiving of the whole “I H8 U” part from earlier. Once I tried to stuff it all into one scene back when I was still learning how to write and experimenting. It was completely unbelievable and improbable. If it had been a fantasy, maybe someone could have cast a spell on the two characters, but really, it was very silly to read after I wrote it. So, I learned that big emotional shifts need reasons, and they need to make sense.
Having all of these emotional elements also helps with identifying how characters react to story points. When characters react emotionally, or do things because of what they’re feeling, it gives a cause for what’s happening, but also gives depth to what is happening and adds solidity to the why of everything playing out. The whole why of Rick saying goodbye to Ilsa, and Dumbledore freezing Harry, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid making their last stand, and so on and so forth. So many whys and so many emotional reasons that fill in emotional arcs and provide satisfying conclusions to the endings of stories.
How do you use emotion in your writing? And if you’re a reader, was there a time where the emotional arc of a character or story was really satisfying to you?