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Using Emotions in Your Character Arc

22 Aug

For my latest book, Rescuing Vanessa, I used the emotion ‘shame’ as a theme and showed how my main character dealt with it throughout the book. In The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, shame is defined as ‘the feeling that arises from a dishonorable or improper act; disgrace’ (Puglisi, Becca; Ackerman, Angela (2012-05-09). The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression (p. 140). . Kindle Edition).

My character, Vanessa, did something she is ashamed of and has to deal with the consequences. She didn’t commit murder or anything, but she feels like she let down the people she loves and doesn’t truly deserve forgiveness. This colors all of her actions and relationships.

The fun part for me as a writer was in showing how this character went from shame to grace. Of course, it couldn’t happen too quickly or it wouldn’t be much of a story. However, I needed to show movement of some kind. Mainly, I used the outline of a four act play to show this. The first act is really the intro, characters, setting, goals, etc. Here I showed Vanessa having made a move in the right direction, but mainly feeling shame and wanting to hide it. The second act is more of a reaction phase. Here, I showed her various reactions to people (and the Lord) reaching out to her. She feels love and has the offer of forgiveness, but feels unworthy and keeps people at arms’ length. She is okay with friendship, but anything else is not an option. The third act is more proactive. Vanessa isn’t just reacting anymore. She makes decisive choices. She finally reveals what she did, but still insists that she must somehow make penance. In the final act, she finally comes to terms with all of the contributing factors to her feeling of shame and deals with it.

Of course, this kind of thing can be done in any story, with any negative emotion. Fear, guilt, jealousy, loneliness, pride, and the list goes on.

Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorites for an example of going from pride to love and humbleness. Both Mr. Darcy and Lizzy go through this character arc by the end of the book.

In the Bible, Abraham is shown going from fear to becoming an example of faith in God. Initially, he obeys God, but he still has ‘baggage’. Instead of completely obeying God and going where he is sent, he takes along his nephew. When he passes through Egypt, instead of trusting God, he is fearful and lies to the Pharaoh about his wife, Sarah. He does this twice. Finally, he simply trusted the Lord even with his only child and the Lord was able to bless him more.

In both your fiction and non-fiction reading, try to be more aware of the changes the characters go through as the story progresses. Be sure to post in the comments some of your favorite examples. 🙂

 

 

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Posted by on August 22, 2013 in Author in the Trenches

 

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