The Stoic's Guide to Emotions

Updated: Jun 10, 2018


Stoicism is a term that's relatively shadowed in today's society where overshares, emotional dumps, and public displays of drama are the norm. Yes, it's absolutely acceptable to open your heart to two thousand of your closest friends on Facebook and intimately share the details of your inner angst in painstaking detail complete with pictures and of course... emoticons.


But long before the current trend of emoting, there was stoicism. Stoicism was founded by the Greek philosopher Zeno (not by Mr. Spock). Followers of this school of philosophy ascribe to the theory that we should be free from passion, unmoved by joy or grief, and submit without complaint to unavoidable necessity.


I recently realized that I am a closet stoic, though I have never been to Greece, and Zeno and I are not Facebook friends, and I don't watch Star Trek. It is also very possible that many of you are closet stoics as well.


Imagine my surprise at this armchair diagnosis. After all, I'm Italian. Agita is my family's middle name. How did this happen you may wonder? I have my suspicions and you may as well. But nothing good can come of digging around in our genetic closet or tossing around nature versus nurture.


The real issue here is that we are writers. While I value and embrace my stoic nature, it makes for crappy copy. Stoic characters do not a good read make. (You may quote me.)


Necessity required that I find a solution to this problem. And so, I present what I refer to as The Essential Theories of Fictional Emotion, gathered from the world's highly acclaimed sources in the field of fictional emoting.


This is not rocket science. Oh, wait. Actually, it is. Seriously, embrace these very simple scientific principles and I promise that you too, will be emulating Scarlett O'Hara.


1. The Michael Hauge Conundrum.

"The primary goal of storytelling is to elicit emotion. You must create an emotional experience for the audience." The Six Stage Structure is the foundation to creating that emotional experience. Key point: Emotion grows out of conflict.


2. Shelly Thacker's Big Bang Emotion Theory.

This is a magnificently clear and simple theory. Emotion on every page. Review each page of your manuscript with a red pen and underline the emotion. If there is no emotion, you must create it.


3. Vince Mooney's Universal Laws of RPP.


“The way to get prospects to read even the longest advertising copy is to reward them for reading every step of the way.”


Mooney tells us, "Based on my research, I believe that the way to sell more books (or get your books published in the first place) is to enhance the page-by-page ‘reading experience.’ One way to quantify this experience is by the use of a Rewards-Per-Page index."


4. Newton's Third Law of Physics (as applied to fiction).


"For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."

-Events in your story have no meaning or value, EXCEPT as they relate to your characters.

-The value or meaning is how your characters react or have feelings about the event.

-Events are external. Emotional reactions are internal and/or external.

-One cannot exist without the other and they interact to move the story forward.


This law requires the writer to examine each page of their manuscript to verify that each action has a reaction!


5. The Whoopie Goldberg Ghost Theorem,

This simple theorem requires a dark room and candles. (Kidding.) But it does require channeling your characters. Channeling your characters like Oda Mae in Ghost because it:


  • eliminates two-dimensional characters

  • uncovers motivation for the characters

  • And that motivation leads to writing scenes based on those character motivations

  • It also provides deep point of view (pov)

By doing the above you take your characters to a level of connection with the reader. At this level the reader bonds with your character and cares about your character or, in the case of a villain; they are interested enough to keep reading in order to find out what happens.

Simply put, if you want the reader to invest in your characters you must elicit emotion by creating believable characters. That investment is not made simply telling them who a character is, but showing them.


Once the reader knows the character, then they will also know how a character will act or react. At this point, you have a responsibility as a writer. The reader now expects that the motivations of the character will be unique and consistent to the character you have created.


#emotion #RPP


*Photo by Rob Mulally on Unsplash