Crafting Emotional Sense

I have said it for some time now, and I’ll say it again: I do not care if stories make logical sense. I want them to make emotional sense. Reading Craft in the Real World by Matthew Salesses makes want to write so many essays that I might as well start here. (His words make a lot of things click into place and make sense after simmering in a soup of useless craft advice for decades. Meta-language and recognition are important.)

The assumption is that stories make sense. The assumption is that this sense is logical (aka adheres to the laws to logic, time, and space) and develops inevitably from the actions and events in the story. The assumption is that I care about a logically infallible structure.

I do not.

I care about characters and their emotional journeys. I want to see them develop and grow into being more themself. I want to see their connections with other characters and how that moves them and , by proxy, the world.

Logic has little to do with that. (Like with wisdom, logic is the beginning of storytelling, not the end…)

Old Spock in black robes holding a blue cup in both hands. The caption reads: Logic is the beginning of wisdom, Valeris, not the end.

Now I have to understand that an emotionally satisfying arc is many different things to many different people. And most of those people are not like me and want something else than I do. Valid.

On the other hand I have always known there is also people like me. Who want the same arc as me, who will bloody well write it if needs be. (Yes, yes I am talking fanfic here, the one place I got what I wanted for the longest time.)

So, if it existed, and people wanted it – why was it not in publishing?

I think there are many answers and most tie back in to what is considered Good Craft and how it perpetuates itself with little regard of anything outside it’s narrow cone. We learn how to correctly read a story early on and are taught by reverse conclusion, the right way to tell a story. If it doesn’t resonate with me, that has to be an me-problem, yes?

It is not.

The wrong preconception is that to be good, a story must mirror the world and it’s laws as we know them. The idea that only thorough research and a carefully and completely logically knit net of world-building will make a story palatable. We talk about stories making sense in-universe.

We keep forgetting that sometimes it does make sense in-universe that the laws of physics bend to the needs of the emotional character arcs.

Think of the dance scene in the first episode of The Umbrella Academy where they all dance on their own in this big empty house. Does it make logical sense? No. Is it likely? Also no.

But is makes emotional sense and tells a story on a level I crave. Characters. Who they are and how they relate. And how, by wanting to act on and change those relationships, they change the world.

Another great example is Our Flag Means Death which follows this doctrine to the T.

Everything, and that includes absolutely everything, is secondary to the emotional character arcs. Time and space may exist, but in case of doubt, they have no power. The ocean can be navigated in a rowboat with nothing but the clothes on your back and a gaydar to find your destination.

What I really love about it is how nobody even questions it. Take a rowboat to the Republic of Pirates? No biggie. Invitation to a party on a boat? In the middle of the ocean? So what? We will find it no problem.

This holds true until the very end where Stede just boards his own rowboat and finds his crew stranded on a tiny island which could be anywhere. Is it likely? No. Is it possible? Also no.

But once again, it makes sense emotionally. The story is making very different promises to its audience and we understand them. (And in this case, trust them. It’s the reason nobody actually believes Lucius is dead. Why we a certain that little piece of red silk will find its way back to Ed.)

Stede Bonnet from Our Flag Means Death in a white pirate shirt and black trousers stands up in a rowboat and extends his right to the sky, emulating a lighthouse.

For once I look at a piece of media and see my own ideas of story logic mirrored there.

I understand that this method is more hit-and-miss finding its readers than copying the laws of logic. IMO, it is also a lot more rewarding when it hits home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.