28 May 2014

The Importance of Your Character's Emotional State Changing within Each Scene

Change is essential for keeping your reader’s interest locked on your story. A character and her emotional state should be constantly changing. If you write a scene where this is missing, chances are the scene will fall flat and turn your story stagnant. The emotional change the character experiences within each scene does not have to be monumental, but she does have to feel and experience some sort of emotional reaction to the dramatic action in the scene. If not, you’ve done nothing to develop the character, which raises the question: why not?

For example, in the first scene of The Sea-Wolf by Jack London, Humphrey van Weyden, the protagonist, begins the book in a positive state; he is traveling on a ferryboat from San Francisco to Sausalito confident and eager to work on a projected essay he has thought of calling “The Necessity of Freedom: A Plea for the Artist.” Some paragraphs later, in the same scene, a red-faced stranger appears. (This is a clever technique for creating tension and suspense because a stranger inevitably evokes curiosity in the reader. Who is this person? A messenger of doom (an antagonist)? Or an agent of reward (an ally)?)

The stranger hints to van Weyden that because of all the fog in the San Francisco Bay, things are amiss.

Soon after, the ferry bearing the two men crashes into another vessel. As chaos ensues, fear grips van Weyden.

This is a satisfying scene because, as tension builds, the protagonist's display of fluctuating emotions intensifies, pulling at our emotional feelings to mirror his and thus effectively connecting us to the protagonist and the story both. Not only that, the scene ends with our protagonist in horrible shape compared to where he was in the beginning of the scene and we've seen first-hand how he expresses a range of emotions.
(Taken from: The Plot Whisperer Workbook Step-by-Step Exercises to Help You Create Compelling Stories)
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