Emotional Moments 3of8 #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

What follows is the third part of a list of what I feel are the common emotional tones, with examples. (For part 1 please click this link.)

(Note: Many examples may represent spoilers if you have not read/seen the story, though I will do my best to refrain from being too specific.)

This section focuses on what I call Neutral Active emotional moments:


“Who/what is that?”

Stories center around conflict, and conflicts center around desires. Desire is what shakes the character out of complacency, motivating them to disrupt or abandon their routine order in favor of something uncertain.

Everything a character does is routed in desire, in pursing a goal, or (more often) in choosing between conflicting goals/priorities. For example, in the original Star Wars film, Luke spends many of the early scenes divided between his immediate desire for adventure, and to help others, and his perceived obligations and responsibilities to his family. Granted, some might counter that Luke’s responsibilities are not something he desires, and while I agree, I also believe the reason Luke follow’s through with those responsibilities is his desire to “be a good person,” perhaps one of the most widely seen desire in fiction and in life (though what qualifies as a “good person” can be very subjective).

In general, a character could be said to have 8 states of desire:

Passive States

1. “All set,” they have everything they want (which could be a great many things or nothing)
2. “There’s no way,” they want something, but don’t believe it’s possible
3. “Maybe someday,” they want something, but feel the price/consequences are too great

Transition States

4. “What’s that?” Something new has been introduced, something they never imagined or encountered before.
5. “I will do it,” a new resource or opportunity has arisen, making the goal possible or easier.
6. “I will get it back,” something has been lost and “must” be restored.
7. “I’ve done it/I failed,” a definitive outcome that leads a character back into 1-3.

Active State

8. “I’m working on it,” the character is either developing a plan, gathering resources, or formally pursuing the goal.

Mellow Example

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry learns of the Firebolt, and secretly dreams of buying one, even though he already has a quality broom.

There’s no urgency, merely that familiar “ooh, shiny.” The Firebolt is new, it’s better than the broom Harry already has, but at the end of the day there’s no way he can justify spending his limited resources on such a thing.

It’s a very humanizing moment for Harry’s character, and it serves as a minor moment, hinting at the larger world beyond the immediate scope of the story at hand. But in the moment, it doesn’t have any real bearing or consequence (though as is often the case, the story circles back to this issue more than once).

Intense example

In Lord of the Rings, Gollum’s obsession with the Ring may be the single most intense desire of the series. Gollum has paid every price imaginable for the sake of the ring, and when the ring (or his possession of it) is threatened, all other concerns and fears fall away. He literally embarks on his own personal epic journey (mirroring the Fellowship’s hardships) for the sake of this goal. Granted, Souron and his followers did not actively pursue him, and in many cases the forces of Mordor were specifically told to let him be, but Gollum also had to endure the hardships of terrain, weather, and securing food/water in unfamiliar locations.

Gollum’s journey serves as a testament to the power and danger of desire taken to an extreme. Desire (much like hope) can give a character the strength to do incredible things, but it can also lead to blind fanaticism, obscuring the reality that sometimes the price is too great (as it was for Gollum in the end).

Next Time…

This post was written for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop where we share our new discoveries on the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, and blogging tips. Posted every third Wednesday of the month. For rules and sign-up click here.


12 thoughts on “Emotional Moments 3of8 #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

  1. Great list of states for characters. I think my favourite is the active state: all my characters seem to be working on something, usually self improvement via a greater adventure 🙂 I also love stories where characters work to get back something that’s lost!

  2. I like these eight states and the progression you can see from each to each. It’s a good way to think about the subtleties of character motivation. Thanks for sharing this! : )

  3. I think referring back to these various states is a good way to check in on your character throughout a story. They can have many desires throughout the storyline too, and each one can have different levels of desire or need. Really interesting to think about! Thank you for sharing this.

    • Thank you as well. I’m glad you found them interesting. It’s funny, after months away from it, I returned to my “emotional moments” project and found myself expanding upon Desire in very unexpected ways. I really like the results, but it’s also interesting how it sortof snuck up on me.

  4. I definitely see how these are states of desire as well as how the examples you showed are mellow and intense as you pointed out, but I think I’m trying to figure out which state of desire mellow is and which state of desire intense is. This might be over my head. 🙂

    • Or it may be that the text and idea themselves need some revising.
      In my mind, whether a desire is passive, transitional, or active, is actually a different variable or axis than mellow vs intense. For example, a person might casually try to solve a puzzle and decide that “there’s no way,” but because it’s such a cavalier desire, it’s easily discarded. In contrast, a character might be trying to save a life, and if they determine it’s impossible, the emotional fallout from that realization could be intense and protracted.

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