Sunday, September 7, 2008

Emotional Structure revisted

Dunne's book, Emotional Structure, is a masterpiece. Concise and easy to understand. I understand the "why", and how to implement it--sorta kinda, lol--but as I work on our proposal for Nationals, I'm trying to break the actual process down.

Dunne is technical in the sense that he writes with the expectation you already know what you're doing. He doesn't stop to explain basic sentence construction or how to drop into a deeper pov, because--well, he's a screenwriter, and while the process of building a dual plot is remarkably similar, the nuts and bolts mechanics are light years apart.

If you're taking his work with the idea of translating it to fiction, the actual tools for fictionally "showing" the emotional journey would be blocks of deep pov broken by transitions that move the plot or connect the emotional highs and lows.

Uhm...I'm not very good at computer illustrations (can you tell?), so I just drew it out.

The top layer would the be plot. The actual--what drives this story. Maybe John goes to college to improve himself, falls for a woman and drops out of school.

The emotional structure would be--John feels inadequate despite his pretty good job, people tell him he's wasted his life and college is "the" way to respect nirvana, so he goes to school.

He meets a woman. She accepts him for himself.

He realizes the problem has always been in himself and once he starts respecting himself it doesn't matter "what" he does. He drops out of school, marries the woman (my contribution to John's happiness, lol) and they live happily ever after.

If you look at the diagram (which, er...yes, does suck) you'll notice it says deep pov. Suzanne Brockmann popularized the phrase. It's simply the fiction equivalent of a close-up shot.

John walked up the stairs to the student center.

...the stairs went up. The door at the top was closed. Maybe it was locked. With any luck it'd be locked, and he could just walk himself back to the car and away from here.

By going into John's emotional state from a "behind the eyes" viewpoint, it's the "experience" of going up the stairs. John's experience. Everything is closer. More immediate.

John walking up the stairs is perfectly adequate. It tells you what John is doing. But, it gives no clue to how John feels, what his emotional state is, or why we should care.

Emotions, the art of caring, lol...


The trick is knowing when to use deep pov for structure. Some things don't have to be shown because they aren't important. John getting out of the car, walking up the hill to the student center. That's just extra information. What's important is John going through those doors. It's the first step on his journey. It's a major part of A) plot and B) the emotional structure.

So beneath A and B at that point in the schematic, there would be a block of "deep pov" to slow the story down, and place the emphasis where it belongs--on what John feels as he walks through those doors.

As the plot progresses, and the emotional story grows--say, John feels inadequate compared to all these kids and it's hurting his self-esteem. Outwardly in the plot, he's cold and distant and not the kind of person you'd "want" to know, because in the second layer--in his EJ, he's hurting and confused. He thought this would be the right thing to do.

Transitions are needed because time has to pass, things have to happen. They aren't important to the plot except that they have to happen to propel the plot to the next point.

They can be as short as a sentence, or as long as a paragraph, or a short series of little incidents--I hate to call them scenes, because grouped together, they'd be a scene, but in writing, they'd be a collage. A series of snapshots. John walking into a class of eighteen year olds, and they all turn to look at him. John fumbling at the mouse. Getting something to eat, and the person in front of him thinks he's the parent of the girl behind him. Stuff like that. A quick collage which ends in deep pov where he's sitting on a bench--by himself, wondering why the hell he's putting himself through this, and feeling like a total failure.

In the plot, this is where he meets Anne. The minute she starts talking to him--the pov gets even deeper, because to place a proper emphasis on the event, which is big in John's emotional journey, you have to almost stop.

John sat and talked to Anne.


Her mouth curved, just the tiniest bit at the side. She dropped her bag and sat, right there next to him on the bench. Her thigh pressed up against his. It was a small bench.
"I'm crowding you," she said.
He almost didn't answer, his mouth refused to move. "It's a small bench." God, had he just said that? Way to sound like an idiot.

The elapsed time goes from a sentence to...probably about ten pages or so. And as they part, goes to a slightly less deep pov so the emphasis remains on the event.

She stood and walked away. "Bye," she said, over her shoulder.


The backpack fell over. John grabbed it and stood, holding it out for her to grab.
"Thanks," she said. She hesitated. "I have to go."
He released the strap. She slung the bag over her shoulder and started away. Her head tipped like she was listening to something, and she glanced back at him, over her shoulder.
"Bye," she said.
And kept going.

...yeah, it was a little more on-top, not as deep. Not quite a transition from point A to B. It relied more on subtext which spring-boarded off the earlier in the scene, deeper pov--where you get to see Anne and John talk.

Subtext...*sigh*

...subtext and emotional structure, tomorrow.

6 comments:

Alice Audrey said...

Excellent post. This makes a nice tour de force of deep POV.

deanna said...

So helpful. I'm supposed to be making lists of lists and packing, but I'm opening old files and editing...
Thanks.

jodi said...

I like deep pov. :)

Back soon with part two...

Kaige said...

Some days, I'm really jealous of how easy you make it look. :) I think I'm doing less synopsizing in my current story. Every bit feels like pulling teeth. I hope it's just growing pains. Looking forward to part 2!

jodi said...

Kaige, it's not easy. You can repeat that. It's not easy, it's not easy. It's hard, tiring gruntwork.

All this theory stuff is easy. Writing itself is hard.

Alice Audrey said...

That's for sure. I suppose I should go do some now.