How to structure emotion in stories

Structuring emotion in Othello.
The structure emotion in Othello.

This article explores how to structure emotion in stories.

I recently talked about how to avoid interrupting the creative impulse resulting from excessive preparation of a novel or screenplay. (To view, click here).

I suggested that for some writers knowing the protagonist’s obsessive desires is enough to get us writing.

Here is Lajos Egri on the subject:

Egri states that it isn’t enough to identify a desire in the protagonist. We need to uncover its underlying causes too: Is Othello’s action driven by jealousy? If so, we need to know that before jealousy there is suspicion; before suspicion there is antagonism—a primary motivator of hate; before antagonism there is disappointment.

“Learn how to structure emotion in stories as a precursor to writing success.”

Identifying the underlying emotions that drive our characters will help us propel them through the story. Strong ambition, for example, implies the need for fame, wealth, power. But all of these might stem from a suppressed but potent sense of insecurity. In constructing that particular sort of character, then, the writer knows that she has to include scenes which explore these emotions.

In my YA novel, The Land Below, Nugget’s hatred for Paulie, the story’s protagonist, arises from jealousy. Anthea, the girl he loves, seems to like Paulie, a mere labourer, more than him. Being a Senator’s son, Nugget believes he is the superior choice. Her preference for Paulie, undermines his fragile confidence in himself. 

Additionally, he fears that his failure to procure Anthea will diminish him in the eyes of his father, whose success is difficult to emulate. Coming up with a plan to defeat Paulie, therefore, stems from his jealousy, which in turn, springs from his insecurity.

In brief, then, exploring the chain of emotions that results in a character’s obsessive desire, is a useful spur to the writing process.


To properly structure emotion first understand the chain of emotions that lie behind your protagonist’s desire to achieve some tangible goal.

Catch my latest YouTube video by clicking on this link.