Plotting an Emotional Journey for Your (Fiction) Readers

Fiction readers are largely interested in going on an emotional journey. Infusing your writing with emotionally-evocative imagery, characters and situations is the best way to get people to continue reading, and to talk about your work afterwards. Invoke emotion on page 1. Don’t stop until the end of the last sentence in the book.

But you can’t just have your book be a nonstop extravaganza of happiness, true love and victory. That’s where the concept of the emotional journey comes in. Thing about this: There have been many, many novels written in the history of the world. As more novels were written, some emerge as more popular than others, and resonate with more readers.. These novels resonate more because of the emotional journeys they take their readers on. Over time, some authors have attempted to distill precisely what kind of emotional journeys readers want from books. Their efforts have resulted in a number of genre-specific Story Templates or Beat Sheets, that recommend certain universal conditions and events that should occur in a story, along with when those conditions and events should occur, for maximum emotional impact.

To Learn More About Writing For Emotional Impact, Read This Post by Nanci Panuccio.

Most stories are going to include emotional highs and lows, as well as plot twists, or events whose occurrence results in unexpected outcomes that change the overall perception or tone of the story.

This site is for beginners, so I am going to give the best advice I can for beginners. The best advice I can give you as a beginning author is to plot out your story before you write it. This will help you get a feel for story, assist you in scheduling the completion of your book, and view writing your novel as climbing a series of small hills, instead of attempting to scale Mt. Everest.

The basic anatomy of a plot is a series of one-to three-sentences describing events, turning points, and narratives that tell your character’s basic story.

BASIC SCIENCE FICTION PLOT EXAMPLE:

  • A worker drone named Thirty-Seven works in a factory and has no ambition or problems.

  • Thirty-Seven is framed for murder and sent to a desert prison rules by a tyrannical overlord named Devil.

  • Devil’s wife Angel becomes fascinated by Thirty-Seven, and begins following him around.

  • Devil discovers this and sends out a gang of robots to kill Thirty-Seven.

  • Thirty-Seven makes a startling discovery that awakens secret powers he never knew he had.

  • Thirty-Seven defeats the robots sent to kill him, but still cannot defeat Devil, and ends up in prison.

  • He loses hope and gives up on his quest, languishing in prison.

  • Angel receives a secret communication meant for Devil, revealing his weakness to x-rays.

  • Angel assists Thirty-Seven in escaping and acquiring an X-Ray gun, restoring Thirty-Seven’s confidence.

  • Together, Thirty-Seven and Angel defeat Devil with the X-Ray gun.

  • Surprise! The X-Ray gun is also Thirty-Seven’s weakness, and Angel must use her healing powers to save Thirty-Seven, who then loses his superpowers, but ends up ruling the desert prison with Angel anyway. THE END.

See how the reader is taken on an emotional journey? We started out with this basically good character who is perfectly happy going along in his life, not hurting anyone, and then he is framed for murder. This grave injustice endears Thirty-Seven to the reader, who from that point on, wants to see justice served. They want to see the wrong made right. Also, when it is revealed that the villain’s wife is interested in Thirty-Seven, the reader’s emotions rally in support of taking the wife away from the villain, as recompense for what he has done to the hero.

Then the pendulum swings the other way. Our hero is given an advantage, and it seems as though he may be able to beat his rival, but his hopes are dashed and he is thrown into a prison-within-a-prison. There, the reader experiences ego-death, as the hero gives up. Then, when all seems lost, assistance comes and finally, the reader is rewarded for sticking with the hero all this time, as he finally defeats the villain. Then, as an added bonus, the plot is twisted and it is revealed that the same weapon used to defeat the villain is also harmful to the hero. This is where the real nail-biting happens. Will the hero survive, after all he has been through? Will he have to sacrifice himself, freeing the villain’s wife? No. This story gives the reader the ultimate payoff: The Happily Ever After ending. Readers will come away from this story knowing they have been through something, and the subtext is that even in the face of certain defeat, things can work out in unexpected ways for the best.

See how the emotional element drives this entire story forward? That is one of the big advantages of plotting: You get to determine what the emotional highs and lows of the story will be, you get to tell the story through the expression and perception of emotions. Now, all you have to do is fill in the blanks.

When you have your story plotted about, it is time to flesh everything out and turn the plot into a real story. This is done by separating your plot points onto different pages and then writing at least 1,000 words based on each plot point. I recommend more. Of course, sometimes that might not be practical, but as a general rules, it’s a good way to get your story written. Following this method, the more meaningful plot points you have, the longer your manuscript will be.

Another way to write you book, if you do not want to plot it out, is to make up the story as you go along. This can be a little tougher than plotting, but for some authors, it works out just fine. If you choose to write as you go, remember to keep things interesting by maintaining the emotional journey – never let readers stop caring – and you will have a better chance of keeping readers engaged. When I write this way, I always come up with surprises for my characters whenever things start to lag even the slightest bit.

“Life is awesome, live your dreams!”

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