Friday, September 16, 2011

Chapter Anatomy: Emotion

In this post, we’re officially moving on to what we call the “sequel” of scene structure. I covered the first part—scene—in these posts:




(You can find additional posts on my chapter anatomy here: Setting & Motivation.)

So what is the sequel?This is the reaction to the motivation. Your motivating action comes from the disaster. That part of your structure that curbed your mc’s goal. No matter how you wrote your disaster, be it funny haha, or oh shite, your character is going to have a reaction.

There’s two ways you can show your character’s emotion (according to Scene & Structure by Jack M. Bickham): Description or Discussion. In description you’ll set out to show some internal reaction. Note how I said show, because you don’t want to tell the reader your mc is angry. You want to show it with a physical reaction. Physical can be as small as wiping away a tear or as big as driving a car into a house. Your call.

The other way you can get it across is by discussion. Another character is in the room and your mc has a chance to openly discuss it.

There’s no set length for this part. It can be one sentence or it can be one page. It all depends on how much you put into this reaction. No rules apply! Just do whatever you can to root the reader into the emotion.

Okay, so here’s the example from my urban fantasy. In the scene, Natalie’s goal is to relax, which is motivated by the need to forget about what’s happening with her brother, but she’s conflicted by memories of a fight. (You liked that didn’t you? How I got GMC in there? Yeah, I’m fancy like that.) The motivating disaster, the action that curbed her goal, was Jon’s name showing on her caller ID.

Here’s the reaction:

The muffled sound of “Forever” by Sevendust came from between my upturned knees, alerting me to the phone call I’d been waiting on from Travis. Only it wasn’t his name on the caller ID.

My heart seized and I had a moment of panic. I hadn’t seen Jon’s name flash on my caller ID in almost two weeks, the equivalent to a year for us. Two weeks without the sound of laughter from my brother’s familiar tenor. No, that was wrong. The laughter left long before that. I hadn’t heard it since before Mom and Dad died in the car accident.

Answer or don’t answer?

The ringtone fell silent, the lyrics “forever dead” echoing in my ears.

Despite my love for him, I needed to heed Travis’ warning to stay away from Jon, my one and only weakness in the world. Those people he hung out with . . . something was very wrong with them. Pale-skinned and cool to the touch. Beautiful to the point of painful to look at. I’d thought something was off from the start, but what Cian Tiernay did to me, what Jon dismissed without so much as a second thought despite the evidence, solidified things.

I tossed my phone to the couch where it landed past my feet. It may as well have been a beacon in the dark room. I couldn’t tear my eyes from it.

Her reaction was to toss the phone away. Simple as that. If you get your disaster into your scene right the reaction will come naturally. We’re human. We react. This is the part of the structure you shouldn’t even have to think about. All we’re talking about here is setting up a good MRU (Motivational Reaction Unit). A block of motivation followed immediately by a reaction.

On Monday we’ll get into the Quandry, or the period of thought.

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