By Daniel Dercksen, writing coach and mentor
The writer is not only the puppet master of emotions in storytelling, but also the traffic warden in a story, controlling the line of dramatic action, drawing audiences and readers into a deep involvement, keeping their full attention from opening to ending, and rewarding them with a meaningful and memorable experience.
The writer must continuously move the story forward, advance the dramatic line of development, and constantly keep on turning the story like a screw, tightening it to achieve maximum dramatic impact and value.
The writer does this effectively by implementing turning points, or plot points, to constantly change the story values in scenes, and sequences that will evoke emotion.
Story values refer to the broadest sense of the idea and are the soul of storytelling. Story values are the universal qualities of human experience that may shift from positive to negative, or negative to positive, from one moment to the next.
- Opening story value: You should now be able to be clear about the opening story value of your scene. Describe it in one word. Alive. Happy. Sad. Miserable.
- Closing story value: Your closing story value should be the opposite of your opening story value: if your opening story value is Alive, then your closing value will be Dead.
You can identify your turning point by knowing when the story value in your story shifts, or you can use a turning point to ensure that there is an emotional shift in your story and that your story does not hit the same beat without any change.
If a story does not challenge its audience/readers with conflicted emotional extremities, it becomes dull and lifeless.
There are three turning points a writer can use:
- A Minor Turning Point at the end of each story event.
- A Moderate Turning Point at the end of each sequence.
- A Major Turning Point at the end of each act / chapter.
The writer must design a story so that thirty, forty, fifty times over, the story turns in minor, moderate or major ways, each expressing an aspect of the writer’s vision.
If the audience/readers become aware of the manipulation, you have not fully developed your craft.
The Impact Of Turning Points
The surprise element
When the gap opens between expectation and results in a story, it jolts the audience/readers with surprise. The audience/readers expect something to happen, then the unexpected occurs. They experience a rush of insight into the character and the story. This moment of shock instantly provokes curiosity and takes them back through the story.
When the audience/readers experience a rush of new insight in a story, it adds to the curiosity. They to know what is going to happen next? How will the story turn out? The writer must now satisfy the curiosity and move the story forward in a new direction.
The writer leads the audience/readers to certain expectations in a story, makes them think they understand, then creates surprise and curiosity. This new insight is shaped into set-ups and payoffs: a story event will only be meaningful if it has a setup that has a surprising and rewarding payoff.
With ease and spontaneity, the writer takes the story in a new direction; the audience/readers will then experience a rush of knowledge. It is their reward for paying attention.
Dynamics of emotion
There are two basic emotions: Pleasure, and pain.
The audience/readers experience emotion when the story takes them through a transition of values. In order to do this successfully, they must empathise with a character. They must not only know what the character’s object of desire is but want the character to have it.
They must also understand the values at stake in the character’s life.
- Feeling is not emotion. It is a long term experience that can last for days, even weeks.
- Emotion is a short-term experience that peaks and burns quickly.