Raiders of the Lost Emotional Arc

A big mistake I made with the first book (and honestly, there were so many big mistakes, I’m surprised it got written at all…) was not taking charge of the emotional journey of my characters during the planning phase.

I had a vague idea that Cal would find fulfilment and some sort of closure as a result of the adventure, but I didn’t do any work up front on how that closure would come about. Consequently I ended up with this character reacting to events of the book while not really changing significantly within themselves. And then when the big emotional moments came, they felt forced and unearned.

The biggest example of this is that (scandal) the early drafts of the book had Cal and Droov hooking up mid-way through the book. There was a big love scene and everything! (No sex scene though – those are very hard to make not awful). But because I hadn’t properly planned out the emotional journeys that led to that point, the scene felt like it came from nowhere, and it was deeply unconvincing.

In the end, I couldn’t make the romance element work, so I scrapped it and concentrated on the individual emotional arcs of my two leads. The telling thing is that in order to remove all references to the romance, I only needed to change about 10 sentences throughout the rest of the book. The big romance ended up just being a minor plot twist, rather than a culmination and a fulfilment of an emotional journey, so it was all too easy to remove.

Around draft 4, I finally got around to properly planning the emotional arcs of Cal and Droov. And this is how I did it:

First I decided where I wanted my leads to end up emotionally. I wanted Cal rediscovering his mojo, and Droov learning the joys of not being such a selfish tool. Then I rewound back to the beginning and rewrote the opening chapters to put them both in the complete opposite emotional spaces: Cal consumed with guilt and regret, and Droov being a selfish tool.

Immediately, I had given myself the fun writing challenge of getting them from emotional state to another by the end of the book. But how to plan it? I already had my story structure in place by then, so I plotted out each key moment and interaction on a spreadsheet and added a column each for Cal and Droov. In these new columns I described how each moment would affect them on their journey. It meant a lot of rewriting, but it resulted in a story where you care much more about the plot because you see how it’s affecting the characters in the story.

Later today I’ll be doing a similar spreadsheet for book 2. Wish me luck.

PS If you are wondering, the big love moment was replaced by the scene with Cal and Droov stargazing by the lake – because I reckon characters being honest and sharing their fears is a lot more interesting and challenging than just having them confess their love and smooching a bit.

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