This week’s topic:
Last week’s post was all about how a story has an action plot and an emotional plot. To see last week’s post, click here. This week’s post is about how I revised a draft to improve the emotional plot as well as a discussion of emotional filters.
So what’s the next step after identifying the emotional journey of your protagonist? Conveying that journey. As I said last post, I’d left myself some breadcrumbs. Some clues. But I had to hunt for those breadcrumbs, so surely my reader isn’t going to be able to follow me down that path. I needed to construct a clearer path, so that my reader could see the journey or change that my main character went through.
In the case of revising “Rebel Angel,” I had to go back into the story and look at how Vera behaved and reacted to situations. In the beginning of the story, I needed her to show off her rebellious and cavalier attitude, but hint at her own internal struggle with being a failure as an angel. As I moved to the middle of the story, I had to continue her rebellious attitude, reveal frustration with her mission, and show moments where Vera revealed she cared about her job. In the ending, I needed Vera to make a desperate shift as she becomes determined to do her job and embracing her role as a guardian angel.
Vera was a bland character in the first draft, so I had to go back and add lots of snarky dialogue, eye-rolling, and a devil-may-care attitude. I decided that I needed a mentor figure for her to butt heads with, but also to give her that boost of confidence she needed when she became desperate. Vera also became a more real character to me, flawed and fascinating. The first draft was around 20 pages, and the second draft was 40 pages. But the story felt so much more whole after that revision. It had the action, but it was also an emotional journey. And even my favorite action-packed novels have characters who grow and change over the course of the book.
Outline general behaviors, attitudes, fears of your main character at different points in you story that will reveal a progression or growth in their emotional journey. (Like I did above for Vera the Angel)
Again, I’m a fan of charts, so you might find this format helpful:
Here’s another tricky bit in conquering the emotional plot of your story: the emotional filter. At least, I find it tricky. Because as much as my characters feel like real people, I am not them. When I write, I don’t suddenly inhabit their body and mind and let it take over me. I don’t suddenly see the world as they live it. Maybe some writers write this way, but I don’t. I’m very much conscious of the desk, my computer, my cup of tea, and the words coming out of my fingertips. I’m conscious of the fact that I’m writing, and I’m thinking about where I want the story to go and what words will get me there.
If you aren’t familiar with the term, emotional filter is a writing term, especially important in first person but also close third, that is used in revising writing to remind a writer to see a scene from the character’s emotional perspective. I tend to struggle with this because I’m not thinking as my main character as I write.
I usually have to go back after my initial drafting and insert emotions and inner monologue. Sometimes I’ll have some breadcrumbs of emotions to work with, but usually it’s something I have to go back through and add. As I’ve become aware of emotions being a weak point for me, I think I’ve gotten better at weaving them into my first drafts. But I know that looking at my emotional plot is going to be one of the major points of my revision when I do finally have a complete first draft.
Three ways to convey what a character is feeling:
- Inner Monologue: Dive into what the character is thinking and give the reader direct thoughts. This is also an excellent way to slow or freeze the narrative for dramatic effect if it is a particularly important or poignant moment.
- Dialogue: Convey the emotions through what that character says. Could your character be confused? Were they blindsided? Have them stammer and ask questions. Is your character angry? Have them speak tersely or shout.
- Action: Little ticks and behaviors can convey emotions. A clench of the fists, a gasp of breath, a twirl of the hair, a glance at the floor. I would say that actions are best used in combination with dialogue or thoughts in order to give the reader a full picture of what the character is feeling.
Write what might seem as a small/insignificant moment, but then convey that this moment has emotional weight for your character.
Find a scene that is lacking an emotional filter and revise by adding emotions and inner monologue. Show a before and after of that scene.
Return next week for what I found the experts had to say about emotion and some great writing resources!
Links to Previous ‘Behind the Story’ Posts:
Great post! emotion really is important in a novel. I'm such a character girl in my books that these type of things come a bit naturally to me than other aspects of writing. I'm always trying to convey a character's personality and feelings, but these exercises are handy for anyone just to make sure!
You're so lucky that it comes naturally to you! And I'm glad you think the exercises are helpful to all types of writers 🙂
I can't connect with books that have no emotional journeys. When I was drafting my current MS, I got really invested in my MC and there is one scene at the end that I was literally crying as I wrote… never happened to me before. I can't wait until my MS is ready to give to betas, because I *hoping* that the scene will make them cry too.