1. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor Blogerator

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    Tracking or mapping the emotions in a story?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Xoic, Sep 8, 2021.

    I've heard this idea now in several commentary tracks for movies. At some point in the writing/editing process they look the story over and track the emotions, and they make decisions about whether an emotion needs to be stronger, or lessened, or if it's even somewhat inappropriate and needs to be changed to something else. It seems to me they're going for something like a symphony of emotions, a movement through a series of different emotional states that add up to a powerful emotional through-line.

    It seems like a sound idea to me, but I have yet to try it.

    Anybody do anything like this or have thoughts on it?
     
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  2. AntPoems

    AntPoems Contributor Contributor

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    It certainly makes sense to me, but I can't say I've ever consciously thought about a story in that way. Something to ponder... Maybe I'll give it a try.
     
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  3. jpoelma13

    jpoelma13 Member

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    In literary criticism, this is called atmosphere. The atmosphere of a piece is the overall mood or emotions it conveys. Comedies are supposed to be funny; horror is supposed to be scary; erotica conveys sexual desire, etc.
     
  4. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor Blogerator

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    You seem to be talking about something a little different. I'm talking about individual instances of emotions characters feel at different points in the story. Though I suppose if there is an atmosphere or a mood that would be part of it.

    For instance, you look over your outline or 1st draft and mark each part where a character experiences a strong emotion, or maybe even a mild one, and parts where there should be some emotion but it isn't there. Maybe you make a flow chart or something, so you can look at how the emotions change from scene to scene. In the beginning maybe Carol is in a nice contemplative mood until something shatters it (inciting incident) and then she's anxious or terrified. Then a few chapters later, after being anxious most of the time, she becomes determined or angry and decides to take the fight to the enemy rather than waiting endlessly for whatever the enemy is going to do to her.

    By doing this you can spot areas where maybe there should be an emotion but you failed to create one. Or maybe you realize she spends too much time frightened and should be angry a little more or something. Or maybe you realize each time she's frightened it's always presented the same way, as if she's terrified every time. Maybe some of them should be different, like anxiety tinged with excitement over what she's contemplating doing.

    You could also track how you're presenting the emotion. Are you always writing directly about it, in narration, from inside the character's POV? Maybe sometimes it would be more effective to do it through body language or hesitancy or expression, or to have a friend say something to them.

    This could definitely help me, I have a tendency to not really write emotions in or to leave them very subliminal, or to only show them through body language or something. Some of them need to be expressed directly through writing.

    Just by bringing attention to something you make yourself more aware of it, and it's probably a good idea to be aware of the flow of emotions throughout your story, where they're powerful and where they're gentle, where they fade out completely, where angry and where kind and loving etc.
     
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2021
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  5. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor Blogerator

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    I suppose you could also track the emotions the reader is experiencing. I haven't thought about this enough yet, it might end up being the same thing. No, I don't think so, you can definitely make the reader sad for somebody who isn't sad for themselves, or have them laugh at somebody who's always saying "Oh woe is me" or who's ridiculously angry or offended by everything. You could mark them with different colors or markings of some kind so you can think your way through them and orchestrate them like a symphony.
     
  6. jpoelma13

    jpoelma13 Member

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    I read over all of this, I'm concerned your example with Carol seems monotone. Fear, through axienty and terror, is the predominant emotion. Overcoming fear to produce determination is also present, but fear and courage are both related.
    There are many emotions. Why aren't others present? Some emotions like hope, empowerment, or frustration are likely to show up if a character is working toward a goal. Different emotions, like shame, trust, jealousy, romantic love, or comradery, will only appear when character interact. Are you inserting a variety of scenes and not just making strings of bad things happen to people?
     
  7. AntPoems

    AntPoems Contributor Contributor

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    I think it's safe to say that all good writers do this, but for many it's probably a more intuitive process, going by feel. But the more analytical approach you're describing could be a great way to train yourself to work this way, so that it becomes natural. Much like paying attention to something like the lengths of your sentences and paragraphs can help you learn to vary them in interesting ways automatically, without having to focus on it.
     
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  8. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor Blogerator

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    Because this is an example I came up with in about 2 seconds, just to illustrate a point. Also I was demonstrating that maybe you wrote the character reacting mostly with just one emotion (I used fear) or only a small handful. In which case tracking the emotions would point that out and allow you to notice it and fix it.
     
  9. Chromewriter

    Chromewriter Contributor Contributor

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    Dude, this is a fantastic way to think about emotional congruity. It seems applicable for tone and mood setting as well. Thanks for sharing this thought process. :)

    In contrast to your idea about how to create harmony, what about invoking disharmony of emotions/mood/tone? I hadn't framed my process in this way, but I think I've always played with that idea unconsciously. If you are looking to create a twist, you usually tend to build up that tension and mood until you slam a brake on that tone and mood and twist it around to a different feeling. I guess emotions would also play a part in this discord.

    But I'll keep a particular close eye for this thought process now and see if it will improve the cohesiveness of the writing I'm trying to do.
     
  10. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor Blogerator

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    Sure, you can use it to create whatever kind of 'symphony' you want. Lots of symphonies are disharmonious or have parts that clash severely with each other. I love the way concertos are set up--they move through a number of movements (ironic, ain't it? :cool:), often beginning with something quiet and mellow denoting harmony and peace, and then there's something like an inciting incident where it gets harsh and clashing, then things build up through the main body of the concerto toward the climax. Just like a story in fact.

    Many of them have different 'themes' for different characters, especially if it's a ballet or something that would also have a visual component, like an opera for instance. I used to have the record of Peter and the Wolf when I was a kid, and there are songs called things like "Peter's theme', 'Wolf theme', 'cat theme' and 'duck theme' etc. There was also a very ominous 'hunter's theme'. Each had a very different feel to it, and in fact each time a particular theme would come in again it would be different. Peter's theme might be sweet and super-melodic at first when he's being introduced, and then later when he's confronting the wolf it becomes desperate and fearful, but still recognizable as Peter's theme.

    In fact you hear this a lot in movie scores, where you'll have for instance 'Luke's theme', 'Vader's theme' and 'Leia's theme', each with emotionally weighted variants for different moods. I've always used this idea when I write to create movements through the story, but it never occurred to me to think of it specifically in relation to the emotions you're trying to evoke (probably because as a guy I never explicitly thought or wrote much about emotions).
     
  11. Kehlida

    Kehlida Member

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    I believe that it's a good writing tool to always have your chapters ending on different emotions or general atmosphere. Having a variety of emotions in your story grips the reader and mimics life. So, if your chapter begins in a happy tone, perhaps it ends with an air of mystery. If you want to track emotions, try color coding your dialogue text or key sentences; red for anger, pink for romance, blue for gloom and purple for mystery, for instance.
     
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  12. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor Blogerator

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    Ah, this sounds like Robert Mckee's advice to build each scene around a reversal of values, between positive and negative. For instance, on the value of say loyalty, a character begins a scene feeling fiercely loyal to someone else but by the end his loyalty has flipped to the negative pole and now he feels utterly betrayed by that person or has turned against them in some way.
     
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