Scene Magic: Your Character’s Emotional Set Point – Part 2

Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery by Diane Holmes

In Part 1 we discussed how motivation is not the same as emotion, and the character’s emotion in a scene may have little to do with the grand “story goal & motivation” and a lot to do with what just happened in the previous scene.  And now… Part 2.

Is Your Character Emotionally Fickle?

Two places where your ability to create 3D characters intersects with your ability to craft dynamic & powerful scenes are…

  • How your viewpoint character embodies a focused emotion that makes sense in the scene, and
  • What (if anything) causes your viewpoint character to shift her or his emotional focus.

Your character walks onto the “scene stage” with a certain emotion at a certain intensity. I call this the Character’s Emotional Set Point.

emotional intensity

6 Ways to Avoid Fickle Characters

Here are six things you need to know about your character’s emotional set point to avoid fickle characters.  (Oh, no!  Not a fickle character!  The horror of it!)

#1 Probably stating the obvious here, but the emotion/intensity needs to make sense to the reader.

#2 The emotional set point shouldn’t be forgotten or dropped during the scene at any time. “Oops, I forgot to be grief-stricken about that pesky murder of my wife, because my neighbor is at the door, and I really want her recipe for Marshmallow Surprise… so happy!”

#3 A character’s emotional set point can change intensity or change to a different emotion entirely, but never without a reason that makes sense to the character and the reader. “So, happy, wait… now I’m really frustrated so just roll with me on this, wait, I’m so alone…..”

#4 The reason for change usually needs to have heft, otherwise you’re telling the reader that (a) the original emotion wasn’t important, (b) the character is easily swayed by every emotional “wind” that blows through and is, thus, shallow, and (c) the new emotion can’t be trusted.

#5 The emotion needs to be showcased against the character’s scene goal (and what actually happens in the scene). If your character is feeling hopeful, then we need to understand and experience that emotion in the context of the unfolding scene. It is not something that waits in the car, while the character is busy.

#6 If you haven’t specifically looked at your character’s emotional set-point and how it’s impacted throughout each scene, you might have written a fickle character. Time to de-fickle your book.

To Do:

  • Track the emotion throughout the scene, front to back..
  • Compare the emotion in the narrative to the emotion in the dialogue.
  • Look for places where the emotion is missing or not clear.
  • Make sure changes happen in a believable way.

How do you maintain your character’s emotional integrity?  Share your insights with me!

Diane Holmes Crop 1Diane writes two columns for Freelance-Zone:

  • Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and
  • Marketing-Zone: Marketing-Zone: Marketing Yourself and Your Book.

She’s also the Founder and Chief Alchemist of Pitch University – “Learn to pitch your book from the AGENTS and EDITORS who make their living at it. Learn. Pitch. Sell.”