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Diminishing Returns

Banes at 12:00AM, Sept. 28, 2017

Emotional Charges and Diminishing Returns

Many writing methodologies suggest mapping out the emotional change of each scene. The scene either starts positive, and goes to either negative or “extra positive”, or starts negative and goes to positive or “extra negative” by the end of the scene.

So if a lovelorn hero is being shunned by his intended and is hurt (negative), and bursts into her office to declare his love…

- he might find her in the arms of another suitor (sending the hero to “negative negative” trauma),
- or he might find her chatting with her co-workers and, if he can handle it right with everyone watching, can win her favor (and end the scene with a positive emotional state).

Or if a detective has found an informant who knows something about the mystery (a hopeful positive charge), she might find the informant reluctant to talk, and…

- manage to convince him to share (positive positive)
- or get the door slammed in her face (negative).

This somewhat analytical way to look at a story requires mapping the whole thing out, scene by scene, and figuring out what the emotional charge is for the entire thing, so each scene would go from (+ to -), (+ to ++), (- to +) or (- to –). The entire story will then go from positive (getting closer to the goal) to negative (further from the goal).

I guess mapping it out this way helps make sure the story is CHALLENGING enough to the protagonist, and also that you don't run into repetition in the emotions, which would lead to boredom, or to diminishing returns and unintentional emotions from the readers. Going too far into the “plusses” or “minuses” puts your story at risk!

I was in a writing class/writing group a few years back and one of the students read the beginning of her short story.

It was about a woman who lost her job, and then got a call that told her that her husband was leaving her. For a woman, she wondered? No. For a man.

She then walked outside in a daze, and was hit by bus.

I had to hold back my laughter, it struck me as so funny. I didn't want her feelings to be hurt, so I didn't make a sound.

As it turned out, she intended it to be darkly humorous, but her reading voice quivered so much we'd all assumed she was upset and telling a true story about her own life. Actually, she was just nervous to be reading aloud…or that's just what her voice sounded like.

Anyway, it turned out she hadn't been screwing things up, but using the principle of diminishing returns perfectly to create comedy. Tragedy plus tragedy plus tragedy can create comedy. But if it's unintentional comedy or not set up right, it will cause an audience/readership to just go numb, or tune out, and possibly stop reading altogether!

What do you think? Does mapping out a story in positive/negative charges make sense? Have you tried it? Does it seem too analytical? Do emotional “diminishing returns” apply to web comics, where we often read only one page at a time?

Have a fine Thursday!

from the Best of Banes cassette collection



Tantz_Aerine at 11:26AM, Sept. 29, 2017

Great post! And definitely, having an idea of how you want the scene/story to pan out emotionally is crucial, because that's basically setting up the audience to experience (and react) in certain ways. If we don't do that as creators, we might as well serve the audience toast on toast, with toast sprinkled on top. Personally I do this all the time. Both in my comics and in my writings and I remember myself doing it when I was still in school writing short stories for composition class. I had great fun.

rmccool at 9:52PM, Sept. 28, 2017

I think this is sort of a guide line.. but can sometimes lead to overthinking a page.. and making it seem stiff in ones efforts to follow the pattern.. did you post this somewhere else once..

Avart at 7:10PM, Sept. 28, 2017

Nice topic Banes! I really will take this in consideration for my comic. Thanks!

AmeliaP at 9:40AM, Sept. 28, 2017

"She then walked outside in a daze, and was hit by bus." LOL Great article! "Does mapping out a story in positive/negative charges make sense?" *For me, it depends on the character(s) in the scene. Usually, I use a system "good new, bad news" in each part, so it depends on the character in the scene and how he/she/they deal with fate. If they suffer with what's happening in the scene; it's a negative charge. If they don't feel intimidated, it can have a positive charge.*

KimLuster at 8:29AM, Sept. 28, 2017

Haha I LOL'd at the thought of that student's short story!! Even though I love the article, I wonder if ME trying this might take me too far into analytical territory... Some people are different and this would probably work well for them, but for me, I gotta kinda 'just feel it'! Maybe like Paul McCartney never learning to read music - he suggested once that if he did so(this was several years ago) it's probably mess him up! :D

usedbooks at 4:48AM, Sept. 28, 2017

I think a page by page format simply adds another element to mapping out mood and pacing. In addition to the flow of the overall story, the pieces flow of an arc, a chapter, and a scene, each page has its own little crescendo and needs to be satisfying on its own.

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