Wonder how a story can make you laugh and cry and clutch your heart within the same chapter? This how-to will show you how to do that!
Human emotion is very easy to manipulate once you have a firm grasp on your reader's heartstrings. Getting that grasp initially is tough: they have to root for your protagonist. They don't necessarily have to like your protagonist, just want them to succeed. Even if the progatonist is a serial killer (like Light from Death Note or Dexter from Dexter) if it's just a tiny tinge of "I want to see what would happen if this guy achieved his goal", you've just done 50% of the work in setting up your emotional roller coaster. I've already got how-to's on making memorable and likable protagonists, so refer to those.
This how-to will focus on the next part: pulling your readers' heartstrings.
So you've got a protagonist with a relatable and meaningful goal. The readers either love the protagonist or are fascinated by them and/or their goal. Now let the emotional roller coaster begin.
Remember when I said to take your protagonist and hurl them out of their comfort zone? That's step one.
By "out of their comfort zone" I don't mean simply putting them on a mountain if they're afraid of heights. (well, it could be, but I think it's way too easy and you guys can dig much deeper than a simple phobia :P) This refers to their SUBCONSCIOUS fears and hates (remember that how-to on creating an antagonist that builds on the protagonist's "shadow"? that comes into play here, only as an event rather than a character.) When your MC squirms, your readers will, too.
If you want to create an emotional rollercoaster, structure your plot around your characters' personalities, around their subconscious fears. I'm likely not explaining this well, so I'll give you examples from my novel, VENGEANCE.
The protagonist, Takara, is very people-oriented and puts all her self-worth on how much she's helping others. She's a busybody and always needs to be doing something to prove her existance. Her deepest, SUBCONSCIOUS, fear is to be helpless and unable to help everyone. So what do I do? I get a character killed, and it's her fault. But that's not good enough. Let's kill some more. Takara, who needs to be helping people to feel satisfied and happy, just caused the death of three innocent people. That's going to really mess her up, and if she's messed up, the readers should be too.
If you have a character like Takara, who always wants to help people, you want to either 1. make them hurt someone, or 2. stop them from being able to help someone. That could be by locking them in a room while a loved one is beign tortured next door, and they can hear everything. That could be getting so sick that they can't move or crippling them somehow. Have another character threaten them or blackmail them. Anything to keep that character from saving anyone.
Let's move onto another character type, the doormats (Ianni from VEN). These are the pushovers, the people who always say "yes" to all requests even though they may be stupid or harmful. There are a lot of motivations that could be behind this (they hate conflict, so they always do as their told; they're people-pleasers and hate dissappointing others; etc.). Whatever lies beneath this "doormat" behavior, the way to shove them out of their comfort zone is to make someone request something of them, something they ideally can't refuse, but something that's really terrible and goes against their values.
Think Ella Enchanted for a very literal example of this: she's ordered to kill the prince, and because of the obedience spell on her, she can't refuse. For a less literal example, have multiple people ask this doormat person to do something for them, all of which oppose each other. So Person A says to the doormat, "Hey, watch my cat for the weekend? My daughter's sick and in the hospital, so I have to stay with her there." Person B (their mother who is allergic to cats) says, "Your uncle just died and I need to come stay with you while I grieve." (obviously less bluntly...) But can you see the dillema? Two people with conflicting requests come to the MC at the same time. Doormat can't refuse both, but they can't accept both either. When your character is agonizing over an impossible decision, you're pulling your readers' heartstrings in the process.
Another type of character you may have is someone who loves to be in control of his situation, to have the time to analyze all possibilties before making a decision (Khai from VEN). How to push them off the edge? Put them in a situation that's constantly changing, one they can't and keep up with and predict the outcome. Force them to make on-the-spot, impulsive decisions. These analytical characters will FREAK OUT when this happens. Their un-thought-out decisions will likely end up being bad ones, making the situation even worse or making them fail at their goal. When your character feels helpless and pressured, your readers will, too.
These are only a few of the many, many personalities types (go look at Jung Personality Theory for the rest! Most helpful thing in my characterization to date).
I just showed you that you can structure your plot around your character's personality to create emotional roller coasters. Now, let's focus strictly on plot points, separate from characterization.
This one's a little easier. If you found a shovel and dug your characters into a hole, find a bigger shovel and dig a bigger hole. There was one evil monster on the loose, now there are five. The MC's little brother just died? Kill off the rest of his family. Someone got infected with a deadly virus? Mutate that virus to make it work faster.
This concept was mentioned in the Plot Twists how-to, so reread that for a refresher. Basically, think "what is the worst possible thing that can happen right now?" And make it happen. Don't worry if you don't have a solution for it yet. You get the best plot twists (and emotional roller coasters) when you the author don't even know how it's going to turn out.
Another variation on "make it worse" is "make it awesome, then make it terrible again". Give your readers a false sense of security (or even a real, but temporary, one). Make something awesome happen to your characters, and the next page, do something that takes it away. Did your two lover characters just meet after being apart for months? Have one of them get captured a few minutes later. Did your MC just win an epic battle against an army? Bring in another, bigger, evil army. Did your MC just come up with the cure for zombies? Have her drop the beaker she's storing it in.
Give your readers a super happy scene and follow with a super sad/horrific/frustrating scene.
And voila! You've got yourselves a book full of emotional rollercoasters. Just be careful not make the ENTIRE story a roller coaster. Don't forget to mix in a few quiet, peaceful scenes so your readers can take a breather. Be careful not to give them whiplash with plot twist after plot twist after plot twist with no break in between.
If you have tips on creating emotional rollercoasters, post in the comments below!
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