What follows is the seventh 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 Neutral emotional moments (emotions that are negative, and can lead to the character “actively engaging” the issue or conflict or “passively doing nothing”):
“You can’t beat me.”
Few things are a better seasoning for conflict than arrogance. Before the struggle, it can galvanize or cloud the perspective of the challenger. Afterwards it serves as an additional salt in the wound of the defeated. Not to mention it’s a great way to reveal character, and foster a certain amount of hostility in the audience.
Typically it’s either used as a flaw in an otherwise good character, something that they can grow and overcome, or an iconic sign that someone is a villain who should be defeated.
In Dune (by Frank Herbert), Feyd Rautha Harkonnen is a good example of ongoing arrogance and pride (most evident in the two times he faces an adversary in single combat). In the first instance, he assumes he can overcome his opponent, but ultimately relies on a cheat (but doesn’t view it as such), and in the second instance, his arrogance proves his downfall, as he underestimates the protagonist.
In A Song of Ice & Fire (By George RR Martin), Jamie Lannister remains calm and aloof, confident that he can overcome any adversary in single combat. Granted, he is quite skilled, but he also never lets others forget it, wearing his smug sense of superiority like another suit of armor.
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (by JK Rowling), near the end, Voldemort has a rather intense confrontation with Harry Potter. Harry is ready to face Voldemort, and says as much, but Voldemort insists that Harry is lying. Voldemort’s pride and sense of his own identity hinge upon the belief that Harry is nothing special, that his past victories have been a mix of chance and the skill/effort of others. In fact for much of the series, Voldemort demonstrates this fatal flaw, insisting that “I and I alone must be the one to kill Harry Potter,” so that he can prove once and for all that he is right, and Harry is nothing.
“What have I done?”
Guilt, regret, shame, call it what you will, but one thing’s for sure, nothing drives home the message of “someone screwed up” like that “after the fact” realization. It’s that moment when the person realizes the consequences of their actions after it’s too late.
It’s a great way to emphasize the meaning/moral of the narrative, and it becomes a strong motivation for the character; either to “do better next time” or to somehow “make amends” for what they did, and the consequences of their actions.
In Serpent Queen (by David Eddings), Garion struggles with his changing understanding of who his Aunt Pol is, and in the process he begins acting out, taking needless risks (and balks when his aunt tries to correct him). Later (after being confronted by someone else) he recognizes the reality that no matter who she is, she is still the person who cared for him and protected him throughout much of his childhood, and he apologizes.
In Game of Thrones (by George RR Martin), late in the story, Sansa (upset over her father’s decision to leave) confides in others, and only later realizes that what she revealed served as a warning to her father’s enemies, allowing them to prepare, and defeat her father.
Denial is a character’s blind spot, the things that they believe are “impossible.” Which in turn means they are unprepared and surprised when it does come to pass.
It’s a powerful thing, when someone suddenly realizes that something they long believed to be true has been proven false. In the short term it almost always leaves them shaken and weak, very vulnerable, but in the long term that vulnerability can provide real opportunity for change, or it can goad the person into greater acts of reckless desperation, as they try (often repeatedly) to prove that they were in fact right, that somehow “what happened” was faked or misunderstood.
Often this is how villains are overcome, by using that “blind spot” to goad them into ever greater acts of foolishness, until they make a mistake so big that it allows the hero to triumph.
In the novel Mistborn, Vin repeatedly expresses doubts about Keslier, his ambitious plan, and his overall nature. She just didn’t believe it was possible, and that belief, that pessimistic outlook, was one of the things that Kelsier most wanted to change (which is one of the reasons the character is one of my favorites). Time and time again other characters encouraged Kelsier to “call it a day,” to recognize what he’d accomplished and stop there, and every time he was so dismayed that others would “give up now” instead of continuing to fight the good fight.
In the Harry Potter series, most notably Deathly Hallows, the antagonist, Voldemort, consistently denies that there is anything remarkable about Harry Potter. At one point he even declares that “the fact that the boy still lives is more a matter of my own mistakes than his merits.”
He refuses to humor the possibility that this “boy” is anything special, which ultimately proves his undoing.
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.