Showing posts with label emotion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label emotion. Show all posts

Friday, February 14

A Pattern of Character Emotion

Every day I complete a writing exercise to help stretch my writing muscles. Lately, I've been thinking about sharing these exercises with you folks. On YouTube. 

The thought of getting behind both a mic and a camera is scary, but I've decided to experiment, to stretch myself and try it out. At the very least, I might become more comfortable behind a mic! I've embedded the result at the top of this page. What follows is more-or-less a transcript of the video/podcast, above. It is the first time I've tried something quite like this so ... be warned! (grin)

Writing Exercise: A Pattern of Emotion

Today, I decided to try and create an emotionally compelling character in 500 words or less. But that's not all, I wanted to create the character according to the steps Dwight Swain talks about in his book.

So, for better or worse, here are a few of the steps I'm going to use to try and create an emotionally compelling character.

The Pattern of Character Emotion

How do we create an emotionally compelling character? 

1. The stimulus. Something external, observable, happens to a character.

This stimulus should be something external and observable.

Perhaps someone asks your character to marry him or perhaps she's in a car accident or maybe she learns a wildfire is about to engulf her home--and just yesterday she paid off the mortgage! What would she take? What would she leave behind? What would she be glad to leave behind?

Or perhaps someone is going to ask your character for a divorce.

It could be, though, that something nice happens, perhaps your character discovers she's won the lottery! 

2a. This change in your character's state of affairs causes a change in their state of mind.

The main point is that the stimulus doesn't just create a change in the story world, it creates a change in your character. The focal character. 

For example, if the stimulus is a man pointing a gun at your character's chest then focus on how this affects your character. And, initially, your character is going to react emotionally, internally.

Given that your character understands the situation, what would they feel? That will depend on what kind of a person they are. It depends on your character's character. (I wish there were another way of writing that!)

What will her first thought be? Of her child, her pet, of the things she hasn't done. 

2b. External change. The stimulus creates a change in your character's state of affairs.

Continuing my example, folks in real life might have various different reactions depending on the kind of homo fictus they are. A policeman or soldier might attempt to disarm the attacker. A mother with a young child might plead for mercy. A diplomat might try to negotiate.

The important point is that you show a change in the focal character's situation. 

3. Make sure that you show that the character's status quo has been irrevocably changed.

Not all changes in your character throughout the course of the story will be big, life-altering changes. But the change in your character's story world, the change that breaks the character's status quo at the beginning of the story (and here I'm talking specifically about genre stories) should be big, huge, life-shattering. 

Or at least it should be for this exercise!

4. Show the character's status quo before the change and then again after. 

How does one show change? 

A horror movie I watched yesterday showed change in a family's life by showing a child playing with a beloved family pet--a beautiful, friendly, loyal, dog. Something creepy happened that the dog (but none of the humans--silly humans!) reacted to. The dog refused to come into the house that night and was found dead the next morning. We then see the children and their parents reacting to the loss.

It was effective in illustrating a change in the status quo.

Here's another example. Let's say our character is a child waiting in line with her mother at a bank. A man pulls out a handgun, yells for everyone to be quiet and lie on the floor, then he shoots a bullet into the ceiling for emphasis.

That, the man pulling out a gun and shooting it, is the stimulus our character--the child--will react to. Before the man pulled the gun out, the child was bored. Now she's terrified.

Her observable reaction: she hugs her mother, buries her face in the woman's waist, and sobs.

The Exercise

Attempt to create an emotionally compelling character and do this by going through the steps we've just talked about.

1. The stimulus. Have something external, something observable, happen to a character.

2. Show your character react to this stimulus. 

2a. Internal change. Your characters first reaction will be a change of feeling, a change in her state of mind.

2b. External change. The stimulus will also create a change in your character's state of affairs.

3. Make the change a big, irrevocable, change. Make sure your readers know that your character's status quo has been irrevocably changed.

4. Show the character's status quo before the change and then again after. 

Good writing!

Question: What kind of change did you show? 

Friday, February 15

Writing A Feel Good Story

Writing A Feel Good Story

Occasionally I set out to write a certain kind of story--a horror story for Halloween, an inspirational feel-good story for Christmas or Valentine's Day--one where I'm interested, above all, in creating a certain kind of emotional response in my readers.

I've been thinking and writing about short story structure lately so, after I read Sophie King's chapter, How To Write Feel-Good Stories or Tug-At-The-Heart Tales, I thought I'd do a post on this.

1. Getting the Idea

Think about the state you are attempting to create in the reader at the end of the story. To help fix this in your mind think of either a real life situation that made you feel good about life in general or think about a movie which made you feel this way.

It's corny, but for me that movie is It's A Wonderful Life (1946) with James Stewart. If I was going to write a feel-good story I would watch that movie again and pay special attention to how the movie accomplished this effect.

2. Topics

You could write a feel-good story about anything but a few topics seem tailor made to bring out the emotions.

- Christmas
- Valentine's Day
- Graduation
- The big game
- Reuniting with a loved one
- Finding Mr. or Ms. Right

3. Conflict: There Are Two Sides To Every Coin

Often the conflict required by a feel-good story is contained in the premise. Here are two examples of what I mean by this.

a) Christmas

Christmas is heart-warming because it's a time for friends and family to renew their friendships, to feel that they are a part of something larger than oneself.

The flip-side of camaraderie, of community, can either be the character's beginning state or what she will face (or fear she will face) if she fails the guest.

b) Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day presents the hope of finding 'The One', the person one fits with, like a key in a lock. The one person, in all the world, who can make like complete.

The flip side of this is the fear that the protagonist has (let's call her Jane) that there is no one for her. Or, more concretely, that when she goes out on a date she'll either meet a creep or, what's worse, someone she thinks could be her special someone but who really just wants to use her for their own ends.

For instance, Jane could met two men, Adam and Darren. One of them, Darren, wants to use Jane for his own ends and he bends over backward to charm her, saying what he thinks she wants him to say regardless whether he means it.

At first Jane can't see through see Darren is being fake. The man who genuinely likes her--Adam--bungles things and makes mistakes.

At the 2/3 point--the All Is Lost or Major Setback plot point--have Darren propose marriage. The reader should know by this time that Darren is the wrong guy. Have Jane accept. At the climax of the story--the 3/4 point--Jane recognizes her mistake and chooses Adam (Mr. Right). Jane and Adam live happily ever after.

4. Make It Universal

Whatever topic you choose to base your story on, make sure the emotions are based on life experiences most people can relate to. Events which mark significant life experiences like a graduation, a wedding, or holidays like Christmas or Valentine's Day. The possibilities are endless.

5. The Test: Is The Mood Right?

When I write a horror story if I'm not even a little bit scared then I know I need to step the tension/conflict up a notch or three. It's the same with feel-good stories. If I don't feel at least a little bit warm and cozy thinking about the ending then I need to ratchet up the conflict. Perhaps this means adjusting the stakes (what the protagonist will win and what they'll lose if they fail), perhaps it means adjusting the characters, making the antagonist a bit more callous, making the good guy or gal just a bit more heroic.

Tomorrow I'll talk more about short stories and their structure.

Have you ever written a feel-good story? Was it a novel or a short story? Did you succeed in eliciting emotion in your readers? If you had it to do over again would you do anything differently?

Other articles you might like:

- How To Write Short Stories
- Fate Core And The Creation Of Magical Worlds
- Roleplaying Games, Writing, And The Creation Of Magical Systems

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