Building the Bridge of Sequel: Emotion

Let me begin by apologizing for the long gap between posts. I’ve been hard at work on my novel, with a deadline looming large. The rough draft–I’m happy to say–is now written. Edits lie ahead, and until I have this project in, I’m afraid the posts may be sporadic.

Writing, to me, is like building something. There’s the architecture–or design–of it, and there’s the construction.

Fiction is the same. You have the artistry of the tale, and you have the construction of the plot and characters.

When you are writing a sequel, which I consider the bridge between scenes, you’re dealing with an array of materials and tools.

The framework of the dramatic unit known as sequel is put together with emotion, dilemma, decision, and new action.

To continue the bridge metaphor: emotion equates to the pylons under the bridge; dilemma can be thought of as the arching span soaring along the top;  decision is the flooring; new action is the bump you go over as you drive back onto firm ground.

We’ll consider them one at a time.

Emotion: Are you surprised to consider emotion as a foundation? Well, it should be. It supports everything that’s going to happen next.

Let’s roll back slightly.  Remember how I explained that a scene should end with some kind of setback or partial failure for the protagonist? So what kind of response does the character have when this happens?

If you fail to write a purely emotional response, then the setback doesn’t seem all that important to a reader. “No feelings about this, huh?” says Rita Reader to herself. “Guess the stakes weren’t as high as I thought.”

Poor Polly Protagonist–if the scene’s stakes matter to her at all–is going to be disappointed, devastated, disgusted, saddened, or hopping mad. She should never be … apathetic or disinterested.

Your protagonist is not an android. (Unless you’re writing science fiction, perhaps.) Let me rephrase this: if your protagonist is human, then your protagonist will have to process the scene setback emotionally.

This is because people tend to feel first and think later. It’s pretty much what keeps us in some kind of trouble most of the time. It’s human.

It makes Polly Protagonist seem more like a person and less like a character to Rita Reader. It strengthens empathy between Rita and Polly, which is what Albert Author wants.

Emotion, however, is more than a bonding agent (sounds like an ad for Fixadent, doesn’t it? But I digress …); it also serves to bolster motivation.

You should be aware that character motivation is a key component to plausible, compelling fiction. A weakly motivated character is quickly boring and becomes too flat to care about. A strongly motivated character, on the other hand, is like a Terminator in that it won’t quit, won’t stop, won’t go away, won’t give up.

Writing Tip: Motivations are seldom logical.

Consider a vintage Judy Holliday film, IT SHOULD HAPPEN TO YOU. Aside from this being Jack Lemmon’s first movie, this light froth of a romantic comedy features a protagonist named Gladys Glover, who spends her savings to rent a huge billboard in Manhattan with nothing but her name on it.

The question becomes WHY?

Gladys has no logical explanation. She’s just always wanted her name in big letters on a billboard. The more she’s asked to justify this, the less reasoned she becomes. It’s an emotional motivation, but it creates a delightful series of consequences across the plot.

In Tom Clancy’s novel, PATRIOT GAMES, the early action involves a terrorist attack on a member of the British royal family. Hero Jack Ryan intervenes, saves the target’s life, and takes out most of the terrorists. Later, a friend asks him why he took a bullet for a stranger. Jack shrugs. “I don’t know. It just made me mad.”

Boo-rah! There’s logic for you.

We eat it up anyway. Why? Because on our instinctual level, down in our gut, we love this. We love Jack Ryan. He did the right thing for the right reason. Semper Fi!

On the other hand, a Vulcan will never understand what bonds the Marine Corps together.

Several weeks ago, I fell in love with an antique sideboard that’s taller than the bedroom ceilings. I love it so much that I’m willing to shift furniture and bank accounts around in order to acquire it. Do I need this monstrosity from the 1860s? No. I have a cabinet to hold my dishes already. Is my house large enough to hold this thing? Not really. Besides, I don’t require another item of furniture to dust. If the economy collapses, I live longer than Social Security lasts, and I end up living in my car eating cat food, what am I going to do with this behemoth? No answer, except I love it. When I gaze at it in the store, my heart goes ping. By all that’s logical and sensible, I shouldn’t buy it, but if I don’t, my heart will ache forever.

That’s emotion for you.

When you write, as an author you may have to plot logically, but keep in mind that your characters are going to take action based on whatever pushes their emotional buttons. To keep them moving in the direction you’ve planned for them, you have to push the right button.

6 Comments

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6 responses to “Building the Bridge of Sequel: Emotion

  1. Thanks for the lesson on how to LIVE! Let emotions go!

  2. Great, as always. Best of luck with the latest book!

  3. I wish I had the smarts to write a book. Sounds wonderful. Richard from My Old Historic House.

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