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Emotion & The Art Of Storytelling

Essay for the story creation class of Judith Gaffert

Timothee CAPALDI

Assignment: Research on the concept of emotion. Ask yourself: what do I have to know about
emotion in order to use it meaningful in storytelling? Do a quick but in-depth research and
process the information into a paper. (max 1.500 words)
The Story, A machine for empathy

The story is a machine for empathy. In contrast to logic or reason, a story is about emotion that gets
staged over a sequence of dramatic moments, so you empathize with the characters without really
thinking about it too much. It is a really powerful tool for imagining yourself in other people's situations.

Ira Glass

The concept of emotion includes any of the feelings of joy, sorrow, fear, hate, love etc.

When you tell a story to somebody, the person who is listening must feel emotions through
what you are saying; your words must penetrate the soul of the interlocutor and tickle all his
senses. If your story is funny, you need to make him piss himself laughing. If your story is tragic,
you must make him cry all of the tears in his body.

A story without emotion is meaningless. There is emotion in every story whether the author
consciously putted it in or not. Still there is ways to manipulate a story to convey the emotion
you want. This is the art of Storytelling.

So what are these ways? What are the techniques and mechanisms that can trigger emotion to
your reader or interlocutor when you tell him a story?

First, it is obvious that your story is more persuasive if its a true story that you have
experienced yourself because you are naturally putting yourself back in the situation and feel
what you felt. It is way easier to make people empathize with a true story.

So what if you want to bring emotion to a fiction? Just feel it, put yourself in the shoes of your
character. Ask yourself what if you were in the situation? Describe everything of whats going
on, put words on feelings, on the atmosphere, try to be as real as possible.

Im not an expert myself but this is how I would do it. Lets see if it works with an example:

He entered the dark mansion; the wooden floor was cracking under his feet. He was
moving slow. He was trying to be as quiet as possible. Not because he was scared that anybody
could hear him, he knew the place had been abandoned by any living entity a long time ago. He
knew he was alone; he just couldnt break the terrifying silence occurring in the room.

In this story, Im trying to express fear so I hope you did feel something like that while reading it.

To be critical, the techniques I used are repetition, description, using words connected to the
emotion, trying to feel the situation and describe what could have scared me if I was there.

Primitive emotion such as fear can be triggered by simple and natural things. Ill tell you
something about it in next paragraph.
Primitive emotion triggering

Sometimes, very simple tricks can be used to generate basic emotions in the audience. For
example, have a look at this picture:

Is it triggering? Of course it is! Our brain is primitively programed to fear spiders. This is a very
interesting thing to know because then you can use it to trigger some innate emotions.
Mediums of storytelling

Storytelling is not only about words and text; other mediums can be used to tell a story. For
example, combining images and text can easily make one.

Lets see if I can illustrate some emotions in a 3 clip comic:

Here Im using another technique: drawing the facial expression representing the emotion. Im
also adding pictograms to make it even more understandable.

In a comic, this is (relatively) easy to show the emotions of a character. But to bring empathy to
the reader is a harder thing. Colors could help: more colorful pictures might be happier and
black and white ones can be more tragic, more serious. Or you can balance between hot and
cold colors to generate different emotions etc.

Possibilities are infinite, some works better than others. Again, my comic might not work as well
as Im expecting because I dont master empathic storytelling yet. Im just practicing.

A comic is a very concrete example, but emotion triggering can be more abstract.
Abstract, lets talk about abstract

Look at these abstract masterpieces, doesnt it move you?

Above: Happiness by Grace Howl (2013)

Above: Abstract Painting by Gerhard Richter

The first one is supposed to inspire happiness (as the name suggests). The technique used to do
so is making something very colorful and fluent. A bit Childish by the way, it might bring back
childhood memories with a feeling of (happy) nostalgia.

The second one is more subjective. Colors are colder and the emotion that is supposed to be
generated is not told by the author. Still it is moving but it can be interpreted differently
depending on the audience. For me, this is something a bit sad, melancholic or nostalgic.

I believe abstract is sometimes even more expressive than concrete because the artist is not
always willing to bring a specific emotion but just feeling it and expressing it. He is being natural.
Being natural is always the best way.

We just saw how images can trigger emotion, know lets talk about audio.

Emotions and Audio

Ambient sounds and music are also very good mediums to trigger emotion.

For example, listen to the sound of the water slowly flowing in a stream: this is some way

Classical music is very good at expressing feelings: Chopins Waltz is quit a relaxing happy
track while Mozarts requiem is sad and illustrates grief.

I really think that Music can generate all kind of emotion and that it can be very persuasive
depending on the composer(s)/performer(s) (of course).

In fact, this is what Art does. It conveys an emotion from the artist to the audience.

From expressing to feeling, the notion of Art.

Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words
Robert Frost

Feeling is a thing, expressing it is another. Making someone feel what you are feeling by
expressing yourself is an art. Thats why we call the people who express themselves, via a story,
a painting, a song or whatever medium Artists. I dont have the pretention to call myself an
artist, but I think that art is something you need to feel. You can try to learn it, look at what
other people do but I think the only way is to try. Express yourself, be yourself, feel things, feel
emotions. Then you should be able to communicate it.

As a conclusion, I would say there are many ways to tell a story and as many way to bring
emotion. For me, the best is still to feel it.