What follows is the sixth 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 Negative Active emotional moments (emotions that are negative, and often lead to the character “actively engaging” the issue or conflict):
“How dare you”
This usually begins with some kind of revelation, some new information that casts everything that came before in a new light, and leaves the character feeling betrayed and/or manipulated. Realizing how this would affect them (and often how it has affected them in the past), the severity of how this “other person” has wronged them creates an overwhelming thirst for revenge. For a moment, the character becomes a monster, driven mad (insane) by the all consuming desire to “hurt” the one who wronged them.
It can make a character terrifying in their “lack of restraint, fear, or reason.” They no longer care about their own well-being, or the consequences of their actions. The only thought in their mind is “revenge.”
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone, in the immediate aftermath of the revelation about Harry’s status as a wizard, his aunt and uncle reveal that they knew about his past, and Harry reacts with understandable outrage.
Since this is a “mellow” example, Harry doesn’t “completely lose control” but compared to his normal demeanor he is quite bold and assertive, standing up to the Dursleys for the first time.
In Return of the King (2003 film) there’s a moment where Frodo tells Gollum that he’s going to destroy the ring, and audiences can actually see the transformation on Gollum’s face as he realizes the full significance/meaning of Frodo’s words, and the rising anger that overwhelms Gollum and drives him to attack Frodo.
What’s really strike to me about this scene is the spectrum of emotions. Frodo has just escaped Shelob only to be ambushed by Gollum, who is angry/frustrated that Frodo has thwarted his plan. Frodo soon gains the upper hand in the fight, and could kill Gollum, but when Gollum pleads for his life, Frodo shows him mercy. And it’s in the aftermath of that moment of mercy and guilt, that Frodo tells Gollum he intends to destroy the ring.
And (in my opinion) audiences can really see how Gollum transitions from a state of contrite awe (that Frodo showed him mercy) to insane rage at the thought of his “precious” being destroyed. I believe that if Frodo had said nothing, Gollum would have remained humble and contrite, eager to repay Frodo for his kindness.
But instead, in the midst of that realization, he was driven to attack the person who had just spared his life, after he had (once again) rewarded that kindness with treachery.
“Get (this) out of my sight”
Disgust and revulsion generally come in 2 forms. The first, and most common, is the “sensory” disgust because something is displeasing to 1 or more of the senses. Common examples include rotten food, gore, and excrement.
But then there’s the deeper “revulsion” that violates a person’s values.
For a villain/antagonist, the most common form of “revulsion” is the idea that someone/something that is “beneath me” should be capable of rising to challenge them. Common examples include Voldemort’s insistence on the superiority of “pure blood” wizards, and the similar prejudices that those “born to wealth and power” are superior to those who manage to achieve it through hard work.
For the protagonist/hero, “revulsion” usually comes at the sight of what a villain has done, and/or the ways in which good people can be “reduced” to an almost “animalistic” or “insane” state.
While I’m drawing a blank on a specific example, I feel like a common trope in fiction is the idea of the “fast car that drives through a puddle, sending a wave of muddy, dirty water onto a nearby pedestrian (who is often a rival of the driver).”
It’s not the end of the world (it’s just water after all), but it’s uncomfortable, and it’s humiliating.
Fair warning, this example could be a little…troubling.
In the Night Angel trilogy, one of the characters is forced to hide in the lowest levels of a dungeon, a diseased cavern where food is scarce (and often befouled by the guards before dropping it down to them), and the inmates resort to fighting and eating each other to survive.
It’s a challenging section of the story to read, watching one of the protagonists sacrifice their dignity for the sake of survival.
Desperation is an interesting emotion. On the one hand, it’s rooted in feeling powerless, on the other hand, it galvanizes the character to act, to try and “solve the problem.”
Essentially, it’s a moment where the character feels cornered, where they realize that “I don’t have the power to cause/prevent the outcome I desire,” and therefore they turn to someone else. They turn to someone who “does have the power” and try to motivate them to “do what I want.”
In Name of the Wind, Kvothe strikes up a friendship with an elusive character named Auri, who shows signs of having a “unique” perspective on the world, a perspective that “some” might consider to be a form of madness.
Later in the story, Kvothe and Auri encounter someone else, an authority figure in the region, and Kvothe realizes that this “master” could easily arrange for Auri to be captured and shipped off to a mental institution. So he quietly entreats the “master” to leave Auri be, or else he might do something they’ll both regret.
It’s soon revealed that the “master” has long been aware of Auri, and has no desire to see her captured and caged, and it’s with a sigh of relief that the two share a light meal with Auri.
In Ender’s Game, a young student (Ender) excels at everything he does to such a degree that envy soon gives way to true hatred, and a plot to do him harm. Eventually, unsatisfied with past results, a much larger student corners Ender while he’s alone (determined to break him).
At first Ender is confident that the teachers will intervene, that “this is different” and “someone could get seriously injured,” but as things continue to escalate, Ender realizes that no one is coming, forcing him to use brutal tactics, creating a reputation so cruel that the “fear of him” will overwhelm any anger or hatred, and prevent anyone from ever threatening him again.
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20 thoughts on “Emotional Moments 6of8 #AuthorToolboxBlogHop”
I definitely followed along this time. I don’t know what was wrong with me for the earlier posts in this series. I totally see what you’re saying here. Thanks!
Thank you as well. I’m glad you found it helpful. Maybe I should go back and compare them, might be I did something “better” in this installment, something I can learn from.
I really appreciated how you broke these down. Thanks for the insights! I’ll definitely go back and read the other parts.
Thank you. I’m glad you found them helpful.
I’m rather fond of “sets” of things (character archetypes, emotions, plot patterns, etc.). I find the idea of a complete set that is “trying” to represent the full spectrum of possibilities is often very helpful for me when brainstorming. Ironically, it wasn’t until I’d almost finished this set that I stumbled upon a book with a similar focus (emotions).
Thanks for giving examples and breaking down the emotions. Great post.
Thank you. I’m glad you found them helpful. Fortunately I feel like this particular set of emotions are more frequently used than some, as JJ Burry referenced in another comment. Some of the other entries required a bit more research to find a strong example.
Good examples. I agree about Ender’s Game. What a book and so well done.
It is. I feel like Ender’s Game is one of the few examples I’ve read where it feels like summary is actually more frequent and prominent than scene in the telling of the story.
Side note, there’s a great post on summary over at Words Like Trees (https://wordsliketrees.wordpress.com/2020/05/17/scene-and-summary/)
Thanks Adam. I’ll check it out.
Great examples! Thanks for sharing. 🙂
Thank you as well. I’m glad you liked them.
I think the Anger/Outrage/Hatred is used more often than any of the others, even in my own writing. I liked your examples, and I can’t wait to read more of your posts!
Thank you. That is most kind.
And I think you’re right.
There is a way in which stories can’t really stay “happy” for very long. Stories are rooted in conflict, and while not impossible, it’s rare for a story to be able to maintain audience interest without invoking some negative emotions as part of the conflict.
I often think bad to my first experience with Fellowship of the Ring. I really liked the beginning, in the Shire, setting up for the party and just generally exploring that space. But of course, the story couldn’t stay there long, and spends most of its time in far less “safe” spaces.
It’s interesting how often what an audience might consciously express as “what I want” is actually not at all what would make for a story they would enjoy. Fortunately we have many successful examples that can teach us what makes for a good story.
Great examples 🙂 I love using outrage most as I think there’s often strong emotion behind it.
I think I need to read Ender’s Game, it sounds pretty awesome 🙂
It’s definitely a very unique piece. Even its own sequels (while good) don’t quite compare (in my mind)
Cracking post! Your examples are so illustrative and really hammer home the points!
Thank you. I’m glad you like it. I think 1-2 examples are often a key component (though I need to be careful not to turn to the same few stories for examples).
I like the ‘mellow’ and ‘intense’ examples. Many authors think there is only one way for each emotion.
Thank you. I was tempted to create more degrees of intensity, but felt like that could become endless 😅
It is endless – but what you gave certainly gave an indication of the possibilities