Friday, August 10, 2012

The Emotion Post Game Show

I don't know what your family is like, but after every event, my husband says my mom, my sister, and I give what he calls "the wrap-up."  It usually is a phone call to discuss what we think the other people at the event we just attended were thinking or feeling. The purpose of the wrap-up is not to be gossipy or catty, but to assess the emotional temperature of the others to make sure everything is OK.

Years of post-game emotional analysis have trained me well for being a writer.  To engage the reader, you must engage their emotions.  When I wrote St. Anne's Day, I was conscious of trying suck my readers into the story by appealing to their emotions. 

While my family and I are good at emotional analysis, Becca Puglisi is the master.  She and Angela Ackerman have written the book on emotions--literally.  Their book, The Emotion Thesaurus, explores emotions and their implications and is an indisensible aid for writers.




Today, I'm delighted to welcome Becca to The Writing Lane as a guest blogger.  Take it away, Becca.


Must-Have Emotions in a Story 

We all know that emotion is key in keeping the reader engaged. And for your readers to be emotionally engaged, they’ve got to empathize with the main character and feel what he’s feeling. When it comes to drawing readers in, all emotions aren’t created equal. I’ve found that certain emotions tug harder at my heart strings. These are the ones I want to make sure I include in every story.

1. Desire. Everybody wants something: love, wealth, an Olympic medal, a Red Ryder BB gun. Some people call these goals, but I prefer to call them desires. Goals are fleeting, easily set aside, and lacking in emotion. But desires are different. They’re emotion-driven. When we desire something, we crave it. We will go to great links to get the object of our desire, and when we’re thwarted--oh, the drama! Give your hero a desire so great that he pursues it the length of your novel, in every scene, with every decision, and I’ll be right there with him, hoping that he gets what he’s after.

2. Frustration (Desire’s Seriously Ticked-Off Cousin). If the hero achieves his desire by page 25, the story’s over because he’s gotten what he wanted, and so has the reader. Frustration creates tension, which creates serious reader angst. It’s one of the emotions that keep readers reading. Of course, nobody wants to be frustrated all the time. By all means, throw us a bone once in awhile. Make it seem like everything’s working out, then yank out the rug again. Utilize desire and frustration in tandem to suck your readers in to a story they will read to the very last word.

3. Doubt. Doubt works really well because it’s universal. Everyone doubts him or herself. Everyone struggles with insecurity. To see the main character experiencing self-doubt is just real. It changes him from the hero on the page to Regular Joe Who’s Just Like Me. And it’s another possible roadblock to him achieving his desire, which is always good.

4. Fear. I like fear in a novel because it’s primal. We all know that blood-pumping, heart-jumping, hyper-aware state where we’re not sure whether to run away or hit somebody really hard. Fear involves danger. No one wants to be in danger or to watch someone else encounter it. When your character expresses true fear, it registers with readers. It motivates them to keep reading to make sure he’s going to be okay.

5. Hope. If I invest in a character for 500 pages only to find a sad, depressing, or demoralizing ending, I am not a happy camper. Oh no, I am not. This doesn’t mean that I want rainbows and sunshine. I like realistic stories. I like unpredictable and gritty and oh-my-gosh-how-is-he--going-to-recover-from-this? But for me to be satisfied with a read, it has to, at some level, be hopeful. Some good has to come from the suffering. Some growth has to occur. Then, the frustration and doubt and fear are worthwhile. I have muscled through them to get to what motivates and speaks to all of us: hope.

When it comes to emotions that suck me into novels, this list doesn’t begin to scratch the surface. What about you? What emotions are must-haves in the stories you read?




 Becca Puglisi is one half of The Bookshelf Muse blogging duo, and co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression. Listing the body language, visceral reactions and thoughts associated with 75 different emotions, this brainstorming guide is a valuable tool for showing, not telling, emotion. The Emotion Thesaurus is available for purchase through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Smashwords, and the PDF can be purchased directly from her blog.

13 comments:

  1. Love this Becca, it's a guide for writing anything from a single scene to a novel.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Bish! It was a fun topic to think about.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Becca,
    I think I've got those five, but I'm going back to check.
    I appreciate you sharing this!
    Love always moves me. Deep love where one character sacrifices to show his love for another character.
    Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, love is such a huge motivator for pretty much everyone. A romantic subplot is also a necessity for me :)

      Delete
  4. Becca,
    Great resource for writers. I look forward to using a copy to improve my skills. Thanks for taking the time to create this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thx, Linda! I hope you find it as useful as I have.

      Delete
  5. Thanks for this post, Becca. I really like the concept of using Desire instead of Goals. It makes a lot of sense.

    I love seeing the tender side of a tough hero, maybe when he relates to an animal or a child.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Vickie, I agree about the tender tough guy. That's the "Save the Cat" element that Blake Snyder talks about in his book. Our characters have to do something that endears us to them and makes them relatable--especially the ones that are the most unlikeable.

      Delete
  6. I completely agree with these 5 Becca--great job (and checklist for the rest of us!)

    Angela

    ReplyDelete
  7. Great breakdown, particularly #5. Hope can be an underrated emotion in story protagonists, particularly in dystopian societies and other grim settings. But I know I don't see the point of putting the hero in a bad place unless there's some hope for him to escape. I've abandoned plenty of novels that seemed like one pointlessly negative event after another.

    ReplyDelete
  8. This was very helpful, thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you dropped by my blog and that you enjoyed our guest blogger.

      Delete
  9. Just finished reading The Hunger Games. Loneliness and dread and of course fear were the emotions I felt.

    ReplyDelete