emotional plot

May 4, 2019

I’m plotting again. A new, old story. I actually did pretty good this morning, I mapped out 4 plots for the novel – one for each main character. On the surface, I’m pretty proud of myself because I’m actually figuring out how to do this plotting thing and fit pieces together and maybe even have a dramatic arc.

But underneath all that, I know it’s still not great. And I accept that. I’m not beating myself up about it or anything. But I am aware of it.

Because nothing really exciting happens. Nothing dramatic or amazing. Partly because I’m writing in a contemporary setting which doesn’t lend itself as well to the astounding, especially not in a sort of every day life. And partly because I’m still not that author who has figured out how to not just move the plot but twist it, turn it inside out and in doing so wring out the reader’s heart.

There are such authors. Leigh Bardugo. Amie Kaufman. The incomparable Melina Marchetta. They write plots that deliver gut punches and yet makes you want more. I want to get there some day. I accept that today’s not that day.

But being aware of it without criticism keeps me learning; keeps me striving to be better and helps me figure out how to become better.
So what’s the lesson for today? Action plot vs. Emotional plot.

Action Plot – events happening
Emotional Plot – what those events mean to the characters

Most of the “events” in my plot are really just set pieces. There are a few events, one or two, maybe three, choices that change the course of the story and impact other characters. There’s very few actions – the something happening – that forces the character into decision and change. The actions and events don’t force a choice onto any of the characters (terrible or otherwise).

Choices make characters interesting.

It’s one of those things I have to constantly remind myself of and incorporate more into my writing. And so I remind you too.

Maybe where I’m missing the mark is that last bit about what the events mean to the characters. Because my emotional plot is all about what the characters are feeling in the scene and the trajectory of those emotions through the story.

In that respect, it’s a great emotional plot. What characters feel and what they want and how that changes in each moment of interaction; what they’re forced to face in themselves and each other and how they react to that, how they respond and change course.

And I figured out, the very reason I decided to sit down and write this post, is that I write emotional plots because that’s what I like to read.

Ok, so they’re in a spaceport and she’s about to get on a ship (yes, that is the extent of event plotting I could come up with for this example). I don’t care so much about that.

I want to know if he can find the words to ask her to stay. What’s at war within him? His heart and his mind? His pride? His courage?
I want to read how long she stands in front of him, waiting for him to make that move.
What they say in between, even when it’s not what they really want to say. Maybe because it’s not what they really want to say.
How it feels for him to watch her walk up that ramp onto the ship and out of his life. How it changes him.
How it changes her.

I really care about the emotional life of the scene and so, in the grander plot scheme of everything, I tend to plot the emotional beats and then wrap set pieces around them.

Probably because I write like an actress. My whole life, my creative experience has been about the emotional life in the scene – it’s what I’m trained in, what I love to read and watch and so it’s what I write.

The key, if you can pull it off, is to use the action to reveal the character and the emotions to drive the action.

We’ll see if I can manage that when I get deeper into this novel.

The Helion Chronicles, I was better at plotting events and actions and forcing myself to make sure something happened in every scene. But those are shorter. And sci-fi so they created a structure where each episode had its story with its goal. In comparison, a novel is a sprawling thing with a bunch of moments and a bunch of goals and I feel like if it’s all wrapped up in one cohesive, singular problem to solve it’s too simple and not interesting enough.

Maybe I’m wrong. Clearly, I’m not the greatest plotter the world has ever seen. If you do meet that person, they can totally tell me I’m out in left field and if they can also tell me why and how to get back that would be great.

But maybe I’m not so far off the mark. Leigh Bardugo writes events and action and weaves her emotions into them. Melina Marchetta, though, she’s all about emotional plotting with events wrapped around them. So, maybe this novel will work out after all.

And maybe next time I’ll find a way to break readers’ hearts.

One lesson at a time – One story at a time.

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Posted in: Arizona, Plot ~

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