Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Emotional Understructure revisited...

Recently I’ve spent time going back through Emotional Structure. Funny how it changes according to what I need. In the beginning it was an eye-opener, now it’s answers to specific questions. Out of all the books I’ve bought, the only ones that have withstood the “usage” test are Dunne’s Emotional Structure, Jessica Morrell’s Between the Lines, and Seger’s Creating Unforgettable Characters. My shelves sag under the weight of COW books--but these stand out as a unified approach. The weird thing is I’m sure none of them have met. I guess they all looked at the same problem and hit target in different ways.

The Karl Iglesias’ book is next up--but it’s a hardcover at hardcover prices and...er, gotta think about it. Sometimes you get a stinker. A couple months back I bought the Moral Premise and Getting into Character, good reviews, both of them. Getting into Character was obviously the source material for some of those RWA lectures I’ve been listening to--and going through books like I do, I find a lot of “re-mixes”. The Moral Premise was horrible pysch-babble. It’s worth good money, but no one wants to buy. Could it be because it’s BORING?

Dunne’s book is readable and readability in a craft book is rare. Durability is something else again--I can’t count the number of Writer’s Digest books I’ve tossed. I mean, c’mon. *open mouth* YAWN...

It’s the cookie-cutter approach versus internal tinkering. In their absolutely wonderful immersion language series, Pimsleur teaches thought processes by using “if you know this”, you also know “this”, and if you mix “this and this” together, you get “that”.

I’ve only started realizing that Dunne--God, is this man my hero or what--did the same thing. I've been plotting. I know where I start and end, and I know the in-betweens, but the other day I was writing a quick recap so I could finish out some plot points at work, and instead of “When Intelligence discovers evidence of a plot to--“

I got, “This story is about Connor moving past his issues.”

And I thought about it some more and said, “hey? I need a story to hang this on.”

...and got, “Jacey realizes she still has issues, even though she thought she got rid of them.”

Which drove me nuts and sent me back to my bookshelf where I re-read the index card method, and I realized that a story isn’t just a story--but two stories running parallel, and the emotions Dunne talks about aren’t the emotions “from the scene”, but the other story--the parallel story. Does it matter if they belong on the back of that particular action card? No.

The actions and emotions touch as needed, but to say Connor got into the reception and go--well, okay at this point he’s feeling anxious and exposed--ISN’T what needs to be on the back of that card. What NEEDS to be on the back/side-whatever, is where the emotional story is at that point, or how it touches the action beats.

What’s really happening is that he sees Jacey as a woman--not his partner, and freaks over how much she’s come to mean to him.

And that influences the scene.

I’d meant to do a drive-by of StalllingCo’s richer-than-thou style, but a quick place-setting and people-dump doesn’t fit anymore. Connor is focused on Jacey. And the scene is actually about internal change, and his reaction to it. Everything else...is extra.


Alice Audrey said...

This reminds me of an RWR article Alicia Rasley did in which she discussed Emotional Arcs. That was a real eye opener for me. I'd focused on the emotions of the hero and heroine, but not on the reader until then.

I don't generally read a lot of how to write books, but Emotional Structure sound like one worth checking out.

jodi said...

I like it. It could be smaller--honest to God, you could take out his script example and have a tighter book. But I think if anything, it's worth reading for a good example of how emotional arcs work and why.

Lol--gotta go read the RWR online, just avoiding it. I prefer the hardcopy.

Unhinged said...

I've got at LEAST seven books on writing, and the only one I've read cover-to-cover (twice, even) is Stephen King's ON WRITING.

I want my writing lessons to taste like champagne, not like I'm being force-fed beer that's going to burn my throat and make me burp through my nose.

Or, I'll just read what my bloggy writing buds have to say about this or that. Yeah.

jodi said...

I like On Writing in the same way I like Wild Mind, it's a good book that makes me feel good. But I like Emotional Structure like I like a hammer. I need it for certain problems I'm having. Got to hammer those nails, lol...

Alice Audrey said...

So it's good to have a variety of books.

Me, I like to read novels as a way to learn the craft. It gives me a tax write off. :D