Emotion: The Heart of Your Story

A theme that takes care to create an emotional experience in your audience.

This is the responsibility of your emotion cubby.

You’ve got to make them feel. They’ve got to care, they’ve got to invest in your characters and the events of your story.

How do you do this?

First, you want to choose an overall emotional concept.

An emotional theme.

The most effective emotional themes are the primal ones.

We talked about primal desires a few cubbies back – let’s take a look at primal emotions.

These are the basic, most easily understood emotions we animals feel. We’re talkin’ the kind of emotional themes that grip deep inside us.

Primal Emotional Themes:

  • Love
  • Hate
  • Joy
  • Sorrow
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Jealousy
  • Pride
  • Lust
  • Etc…

Whichever you go with, you’ve got to keep in mind:

This theme is the main thing you want your audience to feel during your story.

It’s about emotion. What do you want them to feel?

A few details:

You want to make sure you don’t get too intellectual or philosophical with your emotional theme. This cubby is all about emotion. Feelings. If you get too heady with it, you’ll lose the heart.

Also, take care to make sure your emotion line has something to say.
Pick your central emotion, but then explore the positive and negative sides of that emotion. Really dig in and get interesting with it. Push the emotion in different directions with different expressions and perceptions. Re-define these emotions as much as you can.

So how do we do it?

Choose your primary emotion – then break things down into the four act structure.

Your primary emotional theme will be present throughout the entire story. But you also want to select related sub-emotions to explore during each specific act.

Say your main theme is: anger.

  • Act 1: resentment
  • Act 2: frustration
  • Act 3: rage
  • Act 4: catharsis

Notice anger, as a concept, is ever-present. But each act gets a specific expression of anger to explore.

In the end, you want to make sure you lean on your ultimate point about anger. What are you trying to say about anger? Whatever that might be, bring it to a head in act 4.

Depending on what you’re looking for, your emotion line can be very simple or complex. Whatever you go with, the emotion line is absolutely essential.

We can’t overstate its importance enough.

A story without an emotion line is a hollow shell.