One of my favorite CP’s sent me a critique with several notes that said, “Don’t think so much. Feel.” Now, for me, thinking is feeling, so it took me a moment to figure out what she meant. I realized my character was thinking through something that they should be emotionally reacting to, and she (my crit partner) was quite right.
Are you a thinker or a feeler?
I’m heavy on the thinker side, although I think emotional arcs are the structure that holds up any great story. Our main character can lose a brother, go looking for him, find him in held hostage in warehouse, shoot the bad guys, and save the day … but if we don’t know what he’s thinking or feeling throughout that journey, the story is just going through the motions.
The whole point of the story is human recovery and reconciliation. –Peter Dunne, Emotional Structure
You may think, wait, my story isn’t about human recovery and reconciliation. If you don’t think it should be, I suggest you look at the stories you love – most likely, they have an emotional core that beats out fears, losses, recovery, and new life. It may be subtly woven in, a subtext that the characters never explicitly think about or feel, but it’s there.
It should be in your story too, if you want to have a lasting impact on your readers.
Portraying that emotion can be done in a myriad of ways: through action (forgiveness = a gentle touch), through thoughts (anxiety = Something was wrong
with this entire situation), through physical reactions (anger = The heat in my face threatened
to set my hair on fire). Angela Ackerman’s Emotional Thesaurus can count the ways.
But a disjointed series of emotional reactions is no more helpful than a series of mechanical plot steps. They have to be bound together by the emotional journey of a single main character (or two co-protagonists).
Although my character may have been straying into the cerebral-zone with her rationalizations, I know that her emotional arc is strong, because I’ve consciously laid it out. For my current WiP, where I have two co-protagonists, the first thing I sketched out was their respective emotional arcs. Even the skeleton of the plot must be built on this understructure of the heart.
When I critique, I find myself giving a lot of thought to the emotional arcs of a story.
I know, irony.
Do your characters have a strong emotional arc that pulls them through the story?