Establish the Emotional Arc

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As I’m working on the plan for this new novel, creating characters and trying out voices, I’m trying to strengthen my weakest areas.

My Weakness is Character

My weakness is character. I can plot fine, but creating characters with plausible character growth is hard for me. I think I’ve got it and my friends tell me that I’m still way off.

This time, I’m majoring on the character’s emotional life. I won’t actually start writing until I have charted the ups and downs of the character as she moves through the events planned.

In James Frey’s book, How to Write a Damn Good Novel II, he gives an example of the Biblical story of Samson and Delilah. Frey uses the idea of a premise, or a short statement about the overall story. For Samson, he uses the premise: Repentance leads to a glorious death.
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Frey says that a premise isn’t the same as a moral, and doesn’t have to match up with what we would normally call moral or right or ethical. Instead, it’s a summary of what THIS STORY is saying; it’s intrinsic to this one and only story.

What I liked was when Frey expanded upon the premise:

God’s love leads to a great strength, which leads to heroism in battle, which leads to haughtiness and arrogance, which leads to temptations of the flesh, which leads to betrayal, which leads to defeat and disgrace and blindness, which leads to repentance, which leads to a restoration of superpowers, which leads to a glorious death.

He says the premise, “Repentance leads to a glorious death” is merely a shorthand for the longer version.

Well, I’ve got the premise down! What I’m trying to do right now is to expand it (hindsight is always easier!) so that I can see the character arc better, especially the emotional arc. I love that Frey’s expansion had character qualities: haughty, arrogant, disgrace.

I would like to make it even more tied to those, so it will help me write a better character story:

God’s love overwhelms, which leads to devotion to God, which leads to surprising gift of great strength, which leads to courage, which leads to a heady success in battle, which leads to haughtiness and arrogance, which leads to less devotion to God, which leads to passion and love for Delilah, which leads to betrayal and heartache, which leads to defeat, despair, disgrace and blindness, which leads to repentance, which leads to a renewed awe and devotion to God, which leads to surprising gift of super strength restored, which leads to ultimate sacrifice for sake of God, which leads to a glorious death.

Well, maybe not that much different, but I like–and need–that emphasis on character.

While I’m developing character conflicts, I’m also working on this emotional arc. When I know the arc, then it will be easier to test plot events to make sure they are related to this emotional arc.

From Rejection to Acceptance

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