Sometimes, when I read a children’s book I feel like my emotions are all over the place and sometimes I feel like I don’t have any at all. Sometimes I feel played by the emotions conveyed in a book, manipulated to have a tear well up in my eye, a choke in my throat. I’m susceptible to this kind of manipulation, always have been, but it’s not always satisfying. For example, in middle grade, in a number of very popular stories out there, the MC doesn’t know her own story, she has to overcome and struggle to get to her own story. It is necessary for her to leave, take on an adventure, to get to her own story. The differences seem to be in the particulars of the overcoming and the adventure.
Each of these stories starts with strong voices and with an early identification of the need/want/desire.
Why is there a difference between what make the emotions of a story satisfying or not? Are some emotions better or worse than others? Should my character’s satisfaction of the need/want/desire be easily identifiable to the reader? That seems like it may be a strange question, but I admit, that in reading a number of stories, I am not always okay with an ending and the character’s ability to be happy/content/accepting of the way the story played out.
Right now I’m working on a story that needs a complete emotional arc, so says an editor. The need/want/desire of my character must be illustrated in the beginning of the story and then satisfied at the end. I have a satisfying end, the editor says I don’t have a satisfying beginning to get that satisfying arc. Sigh.
In writing this story, to me, this character doesn’t really have a need/want/desire that is shaping her life. She is loved, cosseted, taken care of. Life is really good. Where do I go to find that inner need/want/desire that the initial crisis of a death of a close family member will exacerbate? Does it have to show up in the first few pages of the story? Or can it become clear when the close family members dies?
Over the past couple of weeks I have been thinking I could easily establish a need/want/desire at the beginning. A choice phrase here, a sentence there to plainly identify a need/want/desire. But just ‘a’ need/want/desire. Not ‘the’ need/want/desire. Somehow, as a lifetime reader, it seems manipulative, a little to easy to use, perhaps pat and cliché to just pick ‘a’ need/want/desire. The story is a different enough step outside the norm to not have a cliché need/want/desire. Why then should the emotional arc be cliché?
If I have been told that there are interesting twists and turns to the story itself, should not the emotional arc reflect those twists and turns as well? Can it? Can a character begin with one needing/wanting/desiring and then realize that in order to get that one thing there is a bigger, more substantial need/want/desire that needs to be satisfied? Once the bigger more substantial need/want/desire is understood by the main character, but not satisfied in this story exactly, possibly allowing it to be satisfied outside the storyline [perhaps setting up a second story or not], and go back to the original need/want/desire and see that fulfilled, then is that completing the emotional arc of the story?
My character and I can only try.