Story Structure and Strong Emotion

Strong emotion abounds in Moulin Rouge

Strong emotion abounds in Moulin Rouge

ONE of the wonderful things about story structure is that it allows us to see the tale as a series of well-placed twists that relentlessly drive our journey to its climax.

Additionally, knowing how strong to make such twists relative to those preceding or following, provides us with a way to mount the tension and intensity of our tale—to keep the rope tight.

There is, however, a proviso: the reader or audience should never see these twists coming, or seem the as comprising the story’s underlying architecture.

Hiding structure through strong emotion.

One of the better ways to hide structure is through the adroit use of powerful emotions. If readers are reeling at some seismic revelation resulting from a traumatic action or event, they are unlikely to detect the seam in the plot.

Story structure should be hidden behind strong emotion if we are to avoid the accusation of predictable and formulaic writing.

In Moulin Rouge, a beautiful courtesan knows she has to send the poet who loves her away in order to save his life. This action occurs towards the end of the story and is a major pivotal turn. But knowing he will not leave if she tells him the truth about the threat to his life, she pretends she does not love him and has chosen to marry the duke instead.

We are dealt a double blow. We feel the courtesan’s anguish as much as we feel the poet’s pain at this seeming betrayal by the woman he loves. The overall emotion is so strong that we hardly notice the structural seam.

In my YA novel, The Land Below, Paulie, the hero of the story, is sentenced to die because he has broken the law of Apokatokratia. Emotions run high. But the reader is already aware the series continues. It is therefore unlikely the hero perishes.

I had to find a way to make that pivotal twist credible if I was to avoid the accusation of predictability. Having the Troubadour, Paulie’s only friend, come forward with a startling and highly emotive revelation about his and Paulie’s past, was how I chose to hide the formula.


Hide the underlying structure of your story behind strong emotion that is motivated and timely.

One thought on “Story Structure and Strong Emotion

  1. Gerhard Pistorius

    Good post. Again the emphasis of emotion is perhaps the most profound aspect that makes a story worth watching. The 67th Academy awards will go down as perhaps the most competitive year in the history of the Oscars thanks to the emotionally driven narratives of the nominees for best picture. There is no obvious choice in deciding between Pulp Fiction , the Shawshank Redemption and Forrest Gump. Any one of these films could have won the Oscar for best picture of any other year. The winner is irreverent ( We live in a time where John Cena get’s the top billing for a Oscar nominated movie) what is important is that these films made us feel something for the characters. You can take a scene out of anyone of these films and it is filled with so much empathy and emotion it makes you want to cry. Who can forget Morgan Freemen’s powerful performance as Red : “Rehabilitated is just a bullshit word” or Samual L Jackson’s career defining performance in Pulp Fiction : ” Tell that bitch to be cool!” Not to mention Tom Hanks’s Oscar winning performance in Forrest Gump where he talks to his dead wife: “I will be right here if you need anything” – anyone who did not cry during this scene has no soul!

    Long story short : No tears = empty seats in the cinema.


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