Purple Prose + theme

Emotion Behind Story: Part One

©Stina Lindenblatt

Story isn’t about plot. It’s about emotion. It’s the element that leaves your body tingling in fear or anticipation for what will happen next, and what readers want from the first page to the end. But how do you bring in emotion to add maximum power to your story?

Universal Theme

Universal theme will help your readers connect to the characters and emotions in the story. These are themes that everyone can relate to, even if they can’t relate to the specific circumstances of the story. For example, how many of you know what it feels like to have the mob kill your family? None of you, I hope. Now, what if you wrote a story about how your protagonist’s best friend tells her uncle, who happens to be the Godfather of the local crime family, that she suspects the friend is the estranged daughter of the family he’s been salivating to kill, after her father turned state evidence on his former boss? Depending on how you set up the story, you can choose to focus on the universal theme of betrayal. At one point in our lives, we’ve all experienced the feeling of being betrayed. Now we can relate to the character and the emotion of the story, even though we have never, thankfully, gone through the same experience.

Character Wounds

Another word for character wound is backstory. This is where you create the most painful past possible for your character, and let it guide your character’s actions. The type and depth of wound will be dependent on genre. The wound then plays a part in determining your character’s fears, and it is the wound and fears that make the character vulnerable. Since he doesn’t want people to know his vulnerability (especially the antagonist), he creates a persona that protects him from being hurt. For example, you could have a character who lost his parents due to an accident and is bounced around the foster care system. He ends up in the worst of homes, where the foster parents only care about the money. He’s neglected and abused. He learns not to trust adults, and because he’s bounced around so much, he learns not to develop attachments to other people. He becomes the bad-boy loner, complete with tattoos. Inside, he’s still the caring individual he was before his parents died, but he refuses to let people get close enough to discover this. That is, until he finds the right girl.

Naturally, you would not dump this information on the first page. Write the backstory down in a separate file, and fit slivers of it into your story. Start with the small stuff, hinting of the possible wound, and as the story progresses, hit your reader with the most emotional, gut wrenching parts of your protagonist’s past. Your reader will keep turning the page, because she wants to find out what really happened X number of years ago. It’s a great way to build emotional suspense.

Have you considered universal theme and character backstory when creating the emotion behind your stories?

Part two will be posted on Wednesday.

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Emotion Behind Story: Part One + theme