Earn The Story


The other day, I was watching a movie, and all I could think was the story didn’t earn emotions on the screen. It felt forced. I saw them setting up the blocks, predicted what would happen next, and felt rather disappointed when it did. Every genre has a general formula that if follows. You can’t have a mystery without a red herring or a contemporary romance without a hero/heroine. Regardless, readers and viewers expect some deviation. Writers can’t rely solely on tropes to set the mood throughout a story.

Emotional levels vary. When a character shoots straight from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other, skipping all the steps in between, it may feel forced. For example, a character is cheerful one moment and the next instant angered. There are a number of phases in between. Until readers get to know a character’s personality, motivation, goals, etc. this sudden shift may feel jarring and fake.

There are a number of ways to move from one emotion to the other:

cheerful + overwhelmed + isolated + frustrated = angered

cheerful + embarrassed + confused = angered

cheerful + surprised + discouraged + inferior = angered

Once the reader is firmly grounded in the story and character, they’ll understand which emotional change a character is undergoing and it will feel logical and earned.

How about you? What tips do you have for earning a story? Do you have any examples of a story/movie that earns the story?

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Character Emotion


Developed by Gloria Willcox

We are taught early on to hide our emotions. If a sibling or friend says something mean to us, our caretaker says to ignore it. Boys are taught not to cry and girls are told they’re overreacting. Adults learn to show only socially acceptable, surface emotions.

When creating character emotions, writers should dig below surface feelings. When I first came across this Feeling Wheel, I was so joyful (excited/fascinated) by the possibilities. Knowing the deeper, raw emotions can  create more complex character emotions and influences dialogue, as well. Emotions have a direct impact on how characters communicate, the words they use to convey or hide their true feelings, and the sound or tone of those words.

Here’s a scenario: Lexi and Tyler are preparing to go parasailing, something Tyler’s never attempted. Surface feelings: Lexi feels powerful. Tyler feels scared.

How would raw feelings affect dialogue for Lexi? If her powerful emotion stems from feeling important/discerning, she’s liable to speak like a leader using statements rather than questions. If they stem from feeling appreciated/valuable, she’ll probably ask questions and try to boost Tyler’s confidence.

How would raw feelings affect dialogue for Tyler? If his scared emotion stems for being anxious/overwhelmed, he’s liable to speak in clipped sentences. If they stem from insecure/embarrassed, he’ll probably turn into a comedian to cover his discomfort (note: this is my character’s specific reaction to this emotion. Your characters might respond differently).

How do your characters respond differently to deeper, raw emotions? What kinds of things do they do to cover them up?