Just as characters need an emotional life, as real people do, they need an emotional journey as well. In the case of romance fiction, which we have already discussed, the journey is the primary story but this doesn’t have to be the case, the journey can be the emotional interaction that the character has with the plot. For instance, the character might be a detective who becomes emotionally involved with the case they’re investigating but the primary plot is the case, and the emotional involvement is a subplot.

Perhaps one of the obvious emotional journeys is The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy collects a band of allies who all want to meet the wizard to gain something whether it is bravery, a brain, or a heart. However, by the end of the journey they’ve all exhibited the traits they were searching for at vital points in the story. The Tin Man, for instance, wants to gain a heart but by the time they meet the wizard he loves his friends and has demonstrated that love. Whatever the wizard gives him at that point can therefore be interpreted as a metaphorical representation of his achievement rather than the prize itself.

There are other stories where this may be less conspicuous. The Jack Reacher novels, by Lee Child, might not be expected to have an emotional journey but they often follow a pattern where Jack Reacher arrives in a place, encounters a cause he believes needs supporting, becomes emotionally involved with the people who need his help, resolves the issue and leaves, always with a hint of melancholy. Simply because Reacher doesn’t choose to settle down and stay does not mean that he hasn’t been on an emotional journey with the people involved in the situation. Certainly his emotional journey with the villains of the story develops from not interested, to interest, to increasing anger at injustice.

When we discuss the ‘emotional journey’ or the ‘emotions’ of our characters it isn’t simply the big dramatic emotions that we refer to. The quiet emotions are important too, while Reacher’s sense of anger at injustice is not a huge discussion within the text it can be read into it, though another reader may disagree and say it doesn’t exist in the text. Similarly with the Tin Man another reader may say that his gift at the end is his reward rather than a metaphorical representation of what he has already achieved. Writing an emotional journey for your character doesn’t mean you have to signpost each step any more than you have to specifically state what they are feeling. Showing who they are gives the reader a space to interact with the story and form an opinion of the character as they read the book which determines what they consider the character’s arc to be. This might not be the same as the arc you’re intended for example one reader might say Reacher is a character who acts in the name of justice, another might say he’s a psycho murderer they can’t relate to, another might see his as lonely and misunderstood.

While this may sound frustrating giving the reader a little ambiguity in which to develop their own ideas about the character and the journey makes for a more satisfying read for them and makes the character more rounded because real people are ambiguous.


For more writing advice see my archive page.

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