Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Introducing the Eight Stages of Emotional Clearing aka Identifying a Character's Emotional Arc

Over the years, I’ve come across many techniques to clear negative emotions. Some of them occur naturally, and sometimes alarmingly, in our bodies. For example, toxic emotions can result in stomach upset similar to food poisoning and have its consequences with a day or more on or in front of the toilet. Or, our bodies can try to eliminate those toxins in other ways, as in hair loss, skin rashes and breakouts. Alarming, disgusting, nasty gross, yessiree. Go on, see my earlier post on why it's important to clear negative emotions.

Techniques that I’ve used in my healing practice to help my clients navigate through some pretty tough times might be EFT, holding alarm points, meditation, energy work, massage, and counseling. They are all extremely effective techniques, but they’re not easy to translate into a MG or YA novel, especially where I want to express a character’s emotional arc through action and interaction with other characters.

That set me to thinking about kids and how they might express their emotions and the consequences. Really, they’re no different than the teens and tween we all have living in our own psyches. Tweens and teens often don’t have access to any of those healing tools, and their raging hormones often result in confusing emotions and anger at some level for losing control of someone or something. The anger then spurs them to lash out either at people around them, or themselves, setting up conflict. Even in adult literature, those steamy scenes are wrought with conflict and that inner voice that asks, “Uh oh, what have a I done?” The conflict is what makes a plot intense.  It’s the page-turner.  

Conflict only gets you so far. Readers look for a satisfying ending. For me a satisfying ending would serve up justice, makes me feel good, and ties up all those loose ends. But as a writer, I can't go on only what I would like to see; I also have to consider what the character in my story wants. The ending to a story is set up by how the main character suffers those conflicts, and it is rendered satisfying by how they resolve those conflicts in a way that is deep and meaningful for them, probably one that doesn’t involve breaking out in hives or spending the day in the bathroom. 
To nudge my characters along the their emotional arcs, I loosely borrowed from the wisdom of Debbie Ford's Shadow work in Dark Side of the Light Chasers and came up with eight stages of emotional clearing. These are stages that everyone goes through to resolve emotional pain and trauma.

The 8 Stages
1. The smoking gun
2. Anger
3. Projection and blaming
4. Expressing anger and releasing pain
5. Finding the mirror
6. Recognizing the reflection
7. Forgiveness
8. Letting go and moving on

Most of the time, we go through these stages intuitively.  Other times we get stuck and need a bit more nudging. I like knowing where my characters get stuck because that informs their personalities.

Want to know more about these stages and how to build a character's emotional arc? Read on.


  1. This is an interesting take on the character arc. I wonder how this maps to, say, the Hero's Journey stages. I'd like to see if the emotions can somehow be overlayed over the plot development in that model. Thanks for this! Good food for thought.

    1. Very insightful, George, and I appreciate you bringing it up because as you know, I was obsessed with the Hero's Journey for a few years. To answer your question, yes, the emotional arc can and does overlay the Hero's Journey. I use the hero's journey to structure my character's physical journey (the plot) and an emotional arc to structure their interior journey (emotional, mental, spiritual). Their emotional arc is triggered by the inciting incident in the hero's journey.