Emotional Polarities and the Construction of Story

Lately I’ve been looking at the draft of a novel that I should be working on but am not yet ready to pick up again. I pull it up every now and then and read a passage here, a scene there, just to reassure myself that it still exists in my mind. I’ll get to it more seriously this year, I’m pretty sure, but in the meantime I’m just sort of breathing in its energy, assessing where it trips along nicely, flagging the places where it seems to fold in on itself or run out of steam. In a way, I’m stepping back and letting my mind sort it out on its own without consciously trying too hard at the moment.

Yin YangStories so often advance by means of a pulsing of energy–back and forth between emotional points along the storyline. When those moments of shifting energy lead one to another, like darkness to daylight to darkness again, the story also seems to move. When they merely happen in sequence, and aren’t emotionally connected, it can feel episodic, as if it lacked a throughline, as if it were not about anything other than its events.

If I let myself step back and look at my story in this way I can prepare myself to gut the scenes that drain the energy from the story. That in turn will give me room to grow new material with different feelings or moods, with actions that build energy where that’s needed, or images and settings that sustain it.

All of which is really about structure. Only when I think too directly about structure–say in the Aristotleian sense–my head begins to hurt. Instead, give me pulses of energy, positive and negative space, emotional direction. With those concepts in hand, I can fool myselfinto contemplating structure–minus the headache.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Emotional Polarities and the Construction of Story

  1. This is such a rich, right-brained way to do left-brained work, Uma! It makes such emotional sense, and I love thinking about balance and flow in a manuscript, rather than a simple linear chain of cause and effect!

  2. It’s early morning and I’m feeling guilty that I’m procrastinating (reading this blog) rather than working on my novel, but you’ve helped me feel good about the procrastination! I’m in stepping-back mode right now, in a messy place, in a sorting-it-out place, a listening place, a wondering-about-this-story place. Last week I blogged about needing to kill a particular darling, and I think I’m still grieving the loss of her. Thank you for this post, Uma!

  3. I think it makes emotional sense too, Louise. I think we all have to find ways to overcome varying levels of natural resistance along the way. For some people, it makes sense to use more linear processes and tools. Me, I have to let my mind do lots of wondering and wandering to get to the story. It’s a messier process, admittedly inefficient but that is how I work. Over the years, I’ve come to trust my own instincts about what works and what doesn’t.

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