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The central premise of Writing for Emotional Impact is probably best exemplified by Karl Iglesias' description of The Emotion Palette. "Just as the painter adds a particular touch of color to the canvas for emotional impact, the writer does the same with words. … Instead of words on your palette, you have emotions—the character’s emotions (anger, fear, joy, confusion) and the reader’s emotions (curiosity, anticipation, tension, surprise). You craft a scene by knowing what the character will feel in the scene and add these emotions to the palette. Then, knowing what emotional responses you want the reader to have, you figure out the techniques you’ll use. The key to building a fascinating scene is to jump around the palette for each beat."
Story is fueled by desire. As Truby points out, drama is not "I think, therefore I am" but rather "I desire, therefore I am." This desire becomes the external spine of the story, driving all action. Without this fuel there is no story movement.
Story is driven by desire. But desire alone isn't enough to create engagement. Desire unchallenged isn't interesting. It's only when desire is met with conflict that things get interesting. Because it's only when there's push-back that there's uncertainty. And there's no element more important to engagement and drama than uncertainty.
When does a chess game become boring? The moment you know who will win. In fact, oftentimes the players will simply restart the game right then and there. What's changed? There's no longer any uncertainty. Uncertainty is a driving element of story engagement. And it's at the heart of suspense. But uncertainty alone isn't enough to create suspense. So, what is suspense? Or maybe a more helpful question: How do we create suspense?
How will creating empathy for your characters make your stories stronger, more engaging, and more immersive?
Here's a sad, hard psychological truth: at the end of the day, we don't actually care what happens to those with whom we can't identify. And if we can't empathize or identify with your story's main character, we won't actually care how your story turns out.
In Storytelling, as in all things, the map is not the territory. When we strive for a storytelling toolbox full of models and paradigms, we're not intending to (nor could we ever hope to) capture the true essence of storytelling. Just as the map can never contain as much detail as the territory (otherwise it would *become* the territory) the true essence (and detail) of storytelling can only be captured in stories themselves. All models are broken; some are useful.
We previously discussed the two jobs of a good story: keep the audience interested, and change the audience's perception of either themselves or the world. Let's dive into the realm of our thematic tools by looking at that second goal. It's no easy task to give the audience "brand new eyes". What does that even mean, exactly?
Let's enter the realm of our dramatic tools. How do we keep the reader or audience member interested? What does it look like to be interested? To start, when you're interested your attention is engaged. You're actively participating. From a high-level, it means you're either curious or concerned with what lies before you. Both states imply an informational deficit of some sort. You have enough information to know that you're lacking information (which is substantially different from merely lacking information without knowing you're lacking information). You have a desire to "figure it out" and fill in that missing or uncertain information.
We can't hope to craft a toolbox meant to help us write good stories if we can't define what a good story is. And though it's an ambitious and endlessly debatable question, I'm going to propose a rather simple answer. We can define whether a story is "good" from a utilitarian viewpoint: does the story accomplish its job? I propose that a story has two primary jobs.
So how did we get here? Eventually the more analytical of the storytellers have spent enough time thinking about story that they usually unwittingly (or intentionally) develop a paradigm and perspective of their own. Sometimes the paradigm is built on others and might even use the nomenclature of others. But the truth is that when you write books, you're most often looking to sell books. And if you want to write and package a "new" storytelling theory, you'll need "new" terms for "new" insights. There exists, then, a natural incentive to creative "new" paradigms that generally don't admit to standing on the shoulders of giants.
Today we explore the ingredients of a compelling, engaging, suspenseful dramatic situation: desire, conflict (giving rise to uncertainty of outcome), consequences in the form of stakes, urgency in the form of a deadline, and empathy for the character. To heighten the suspense, increase the uncertainty, raise the stakes, and magnify the urgency.
Join us in a conversation with award-winning author Janice Hardy as we discuss the question, "What makes a great story?". We discuss show, don’t tell, point of view, villains, consequences, stakes, moral grey areas for characters, and discovery writing versus conceptual writing.
Join us in a conversation with Angel Rodriguez Bustamante, a psychologist and storytelling consultant. In this episode, we discuss two effective methods for creating tension, the types of events that lead to character change, the importance of contrast in storytelling, and the importance of consequences.
Join us in a conversation with author, story consultant, and award-winning producer/director Pamela Jaye Smith as we discuss the question, "What makes a great story?". We discuss mythic structure, archepaths, archetypes, chakras, and how to create dynamic characters.
We'll explore the foundations of storytelling from the beginning: desire. Desire is the engine of story. And where desire is the engine, conflict is the rocket fuel. Join us as we start our deep dive into the theory of storytelling and writing.