How to Structure An Emotional Arc

In a single narrative, it’s satisfying to an audience if the character changes. It doesn’t matter whether the character is a better or worse person, what’s important is that they’re not emotionally static. So the obstacles that you throw at the character, and that they overcome on the route to achieving their tangible goal, changes them.

Often, when a writer has grasped the idea that the character has to change, with so much else to think about, they chuck the emotional shift in at the end. So for example, a character is anxious all the way through and right at the end, the sun comes out, harps play and, hurrah, he finds his inner calm. This feels clunky, and exactly what it is, shoe-horned in.

The way to avoid this is fabulously simple.

Say you have decided that your protagonist is a cold-hearted corporate monster, but by the end of the narrative he or she becomes a self-sacrificing philanthropist.

1          Make a list of the emotional stages between being a cold-hearted corporate monster and a generous, kind person. These need to be roughly 8-12 stages. So for example, greedy, in denial, defensive, obsessive, envious, insecure, ashamed, hopeful, determined, proud, tranquil.

 Do not obsess about this too much.

2          Write the different emotional stages into the emotional arc that you have sketched at the top of your story map – where it says in my example, ‘From Zero to Hero.’Story Map

Job done.

You now know, for example, that in the first act you will show your protagonist as greedy, in denial, and defensive. This should suggest scenes that will SHOW the individual emotional states and the audience will have a sense that the character is gradually changing.

This may sound prescriptive, but I promise you, no one will see the joins.

And if this isn’t clear, please drop me a line and I will clarify.

 

 

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About merlenygate

Writer, script editor
This entry was posted in Process, Writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to How to Structure An Emotional Arc

  1. Erik Conover says:

    Wow thank you for sharing this graphic. I am an actor along with my writing, the most compelling characters have the greatest arc.

    Erik
    http://erikconover.com

  2. merlenygate says:

    Agree. And when an actor gets it right, it’s magic.

  3. Pingback: Mapping an Emotional Arc – On the Road to Idhua

    • merlenygate says:

      Really pleased you found it helpful. It works for any narrative, not just a script. Been busy working up a new project on an MA creative writing course hence lack of posts. But they will come…

  4. merlenygate says:

    Really pleased you found it helpful. It works for any narrative, not just a script. Been busy working up a new project on an MA creative writing course hence lack of posts. But they will come…

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