1. bumble bee
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    bumble bee Member

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    Does a successful story need an emotional change based on an event?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by bumble bee, Jun 8, 2015.

    Reading a book on creative writing, it said that every story should have an emotional change along the same continuum that is caused by an event.

    So in many romance books it might be:
    1) MC is single and unhappy
    2)MC meets romantic partner
    3)MC is happy in new relationship

    The idea is that more complex events and emotions might happen in the middle but the basic structure would remain.
    e.g. the Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
    1) MC is lonely and isolated from peers and caregivers
    2)MC goes to a new setting and meets new people
    3) MC is part of new community with friends and caring adults.

    In the section of the book I've called 2 Harry has adventures, feels angry, scared, confused etc but what shapes the story is the movement from 1-3

    I'm interested mostly because I think my short story writing sometimes lacks a strong drive and I wonder if it is because I need to make more effort to include an emotion-changing event!

    I rewrote a story with this in mind but it felt to me a bit childish: I felt x, then y happened and I learned an important lesson so now I feel z
    I am very willing to accept that might be my poor execution!

    I was just wondering what everyone else feels. Is this a helpful way to look at stories? Is it always true?
     
  2. J_Downloading
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    J_Downloading Member

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    Yes. Emotion is a common denominator among all people and across different circumstances. It allows your audience to empathise and sometimes even sympathise with your character. If their emotional state changes with the plot, then the audience is able to empathise with how the character has changed according to changing circumstances. This creates a connection between the reader and the character - they shared this emotional journey. You can say x character travelled to x location all day long but that isn't a journey to the reader - the journey is only really recognised after the fact, after the emotion has been experienced and the character has learned from their journey.
     
  3. Jack Kensington
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    Jack Kensington Member

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    Heck yeah! Characters, whether main characters or characters to fill in the population, can't just be 'one emotion' robots. That wouldn't make a story, unless of course it's about robots that haven't learned or have emotion installed, successful or even appealing. Maybe if the robot started becoming rogue by stumbling upon emotions and then getting hunted by those 'one emotion' robots. Sounds like a good idea... Might write that, hehe.

    Say meteors were heading towards your city that your main character is. What would the emotions be for the main character? Can I save the city? (Doubt) After s/he saves the city? (Joy and accomplishment)

    What about the population? They don't know the main character is there. (Feeling that they're doomed). Main character shows up. (Hope). Main character saves the city. (Again joy, immense relief and respect and awe for the main character)

    That's just a brief example and hopefully you get the point. Without emotions, the reader can't escape real life and dive into your world.
     
  4. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    1/ Never accept as gospel what a how-to book tells you.

    Like all "rules" of writing, "every story needs an emotional change" is partially true.

    But while you give the example of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (probably over 80,000 words), you're worried about your short stories (probably under 8,000 words)...there's a limit to how much you can squeeze into a short story.
     
  5. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I don't believe a character needs to evolve in a short story, the story needs to move forward though.

    But in a novel, yes, you need the main character to evolve, but it's not going to be very interesting if it's as simple as lonely person finds love.

    Lisa Cron's Wired for Story does an excellent job of describing the outer emotional story vs the character's inner emotional story.

    So take the lonely person finds love example. That would be the outer story. The inner story would be something more along the lines of the character learning something major about herself, or about her choices. And she had to get over that hurdle before she could find love.

    Or, maybe she was rejecting the love that was there all the time and she figures that out.

    Or maybe she doesn't find the perfect man but finds she loves the imperfect one.

    Or, maybe she doesn't get the guy in the end but learns her life is satisfying without him, and you can have her meet a new guy at the end of the story but the reader is left not knowing if it amounts to anything but feeling satisfied the woman will be happy either way.
     
  6. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Personally, I don't believe a character has to change at all. The reader should get to know them better, but that doesn't mean the character changes. I've read many books where the character is interesting/intriguing just as they are and remain. What keeps me reading is not watching the character change - it's simply seeing how they react to the circumstances and other characters based on who they are.
     
  7. No-Name Slob
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    It entirely depends on your writing style.

    A story can tell an immense amount about the character without any kind of important emotional event. Problem is that most readers might find it a bit dull, but if you're writing a piece that is more dry and telling of a specific time/situation/element in life, then not much has to change. And as far as most readers go, I'm of the opinion that I don't need everyone to appreciate what I write; I want the right audience to appreciate what I write.

    I mean, if you're writing a book about someone who is depressed, and you're trying to show the reader what that depression looks like, it seems that not a whole lot would change the character.

    Personally, I love books/movies in this theme. I find it is truer to certain realities of the human condition. Is someone's story not worth telling because they never have an "Aha!" moment? Is a story lacking in emotion simply because nothing drastic happens that changes the character?

    Similarly, I find it even more interesting when something drastic does happen, and the character still doesn't change. We all know people who simply never "get it." I like being able to relate to that.

    Not every main character has to be Harry Potter, and not every author has to be JK Rowling (happily for me, because I wasn't all that in love with HP).
     
  8. EmptySoul
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    EmptySoul Active Member

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    Not necessarily. The MC can resolutely maintain their initial emotional stance regarding an event and the story could allow the reader the choice of changing their emotional stance or keeping it. For example, lets say the MC has decided to get divorced. Some readers may realize the MC was wise to divorce his wife as the relationship was utterly toxic. Others, however, may still believe that the toxicity argument was a convenient excuse from an emotionally stunted man that just wanted an excuse to leave and who never tried to make the relationship work.
     
  9. GingerCoffee
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    Yes, change should not be so literally interpreted.

    Harry Potter doesn't change from his 'good' self into an 'evil' self, or become more 'good'. Heroes don't have to change personalities.

    In some stories the main character is good and pure and stays good and pure. But the story puts the character through the ringer and they can have all sorts of other kinds of changes there. Self-doubt becoming confidence is one example. The quest has to be more than just a quest. Otherwise you have a series of events with little more to the story.

    The change can be the society that changes, or not. Like Animal Farm and The Hunger Games the new government may be just like the old government.
     
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2015
  10. Ben414
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    The character does need to have some change in belief, but this may or may not result in a behavioral or emotional change. It can appear that the character has not changed, but even a confirmation of some belief that they questioned in the beginning of the story is enough.
     
  11. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    It depends on the story. As I've said, I've read and enjoyed many books where the character doesn't change emotionally, doesn't change his/her mind about things, is still at the end the character I fell in love with at the beginning. What may change is my knowledge of that character. What intrigues me is why they do something I didn't expect from them and satisfies me when I find out later they had their usual logic at work - I just didn't see it at the time.

    In real life, people can go through a lot of difficult events, and the only thing that gets them through is the ability to remain themselves and not change. I like that strength in characters as well.
     
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  12. bumble bee
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    bumble bee Member

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    Fascinating to hear all the different opinions on this.

    I think part of it is that I'm interested in characters who are limited / flawed who won't or can't change.

    If someone is trapped in an unhappy situation and is too anxious to take the risk to get themselves free, that's one kind of story.
    It becomes a totally different story if the character overcomes their limitations and lives happily ever after.
    And another kind of story again If the risk isn't worth it and their situation gets worse.

    The last one is definitely more appealing to me actually! Maybe I just like characters to suffer :D

    Definitely take ginger coffee's point that it isn't necessarily interesting to read about someone trapped in the same old drudgery for 100 + pages of a novel!

    And no name slob's point that there are different preferences for different readers.

    Shadowwalker (or anyone else!) can you think of any specific stories where MC doesn't change? There must be some but I'm struggling to name them- not enough sleep I think!

    The best I've come up with is a short story I read years ago, roughly:

    1) MCs love cat
    2) cat dies, MCs sad
    3) MCs begin to rekindle their relationship, plan travel /new hobbies to take place of cat,
    4) friend gives them new cat. All plans cancelled. MCs love new cat.


    Yep definitely like to see characters suffering! Although on the upside at least they had a cat ;)
     
  13. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Nearly every series where the MC and associates are the same in each book. Some of the books may create changes, but not all. Readers keep reading because they're comfortable with the characters, and love to see them "do it again". Specifically, Agatha Christie's Poirot and Miss Marple are perfect examples, as is Sherlock Holmes. Standalones are harder for me to pinpoint, which, I suppose, indicates an inability to find them, which is unfortunate. Quite honestly, I find most of these 'character must change' books to be sappy and/or cliche - bad boy makes good, wallflower finds prince, rags to riches, good guy turns to vengeance, etc etc.
     

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