Emotion 1: Emotional cause and effect

What do emotions do?

Emotions make events meaningful

Here's the serpent from Grasscutter again:

Susano-o serpent solo cropped Sakai

Sure, we see the serpent, we see it is a cool, scary, multi-headed serpent.

But it doesn’t mean anything.

Only when we see someone else’s reaction does it mean something:

Susano-o shocked

Now the serpent means Susano-o is in trouble.

Different emotions create different meanings

Have you ever seen Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out?

Even though it’s a family entertainment movie, it describes a pretty solid framework for thinking about emotions.

In the movie, there are five primary emotions:

  • Joy
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Disgust

In real life there are more than five emotions but these five are a good starting point.

Inside Out Emotions

What’s important is that each emotion has a different job:

  • Disgust: Avoid sources of poison or infection (including social contagion).
  • Fear: Avoid threats.
  • Joy: Move towards things, pursue goals and values.
  • Sadness: Slow down, process loss, and learn from failure.
  • Anger: Stand up for what’s right when some kind of rule or expectation has been broken.

 This is why character emotions convey meaning:

  • Each emotion serves a purpose.
  • Each implies a different relationship between the character and the cause of the emotion.

What does this emotion mean?


Here's a sequence from Zita the Spacegirl.

In the last frame she is sad—but why is she sad, and what do you imagine would happen next?

Your turn
Discussing your answers
Note how it doesn't matter what "the gateway" is

Zita's loss of the gateway is a simple example: the gateway is smashed, Zita feels sad.

Let's look at a more complex example.

Below are some panels from March.

What does John feel at the end of this sequence? Can you describe it in terms of the five emotions from Inside Out?

What do you think his feelings mean? What do you think he might do after this?

(You'll probably need to right-click and open the panels in a new tab to read the text.)

March panel 1

Your turn
Discussing your answers

So we can see that different emotions make events take on different meanings.

But emotions aren't just about past events, they are about the future: because emotions also tell us what characters want.

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