Emotion 1: Emotional cause and effect

What do emotions do?

What do emotions do in a story?

What do emotions do in a story?

To find some answers, let's start with the image below, which is an expression of an emotion:

What's this character feeling?


Susano-o shocked panel Stan Sakai

Your turn
Discussing your answers

By itself this panel is just a representation of an emotion at a moment in time.

What happens when we extend the time and add context?

(Right-click and open the image in a new tab to see a bigger version.)

Susano-o shocked 3-panel Sakai

Now we can see the character, Susano-o, going through three emotions: focused, confused, shocked.

With more context we have new questions:

  • Where was he going?
  • What has shocked him?

Let's answer the first question: where was Susano-o going?

Susano-o set off panel Sakai

Now we know Susano-o was hunting for the Serpent of Koshi—and the locals said he would be killed.

  • How do you read his attitude when he's setting out to find the serpent?
  • What do you think his subsequent shocked reaction means?

Susano-o shocked

Well, here's what happens after Susano-o's shocked expression:

Susano-o serpent panel cropped Sakai

Uh oh.

Your turn

These questions are central to narrative:

  • What does a character feel?
  • Why do they feel that way?
  • What will happen next?

For this scene, Stan Sakai gives us the following answer:

Susano-o serpent panel end crop Sakai

Susano-o responds like a badass: he’s brave, determined, reaching for his sword. 

If we put all these panels in the correct order, we have a brief story sequence (right-click to see a bigger version):

Now we can describe this story as a series of events:

  • A man (actually a god) says he is going to see a serpent.
  • Locals warn him he will be killed, but he goes on anyway.
  • He doesn’t go far into the forest before the monster attacks him.
  • He fights back.

But do you notice how lifeless that sounds?

Now let's list those events but include Susano-o's emotions:

  • A man says he is going to see a serpent.
  • Locals warn him he will be killed, but bravely he goes on anyway.
  • He doesn’t go far into the forest before he is surprised by the serpent's attack.
  • The serpent is terrifying, but the man fights back with determination and courage.

Do you notice how this version feels more alive?

One function of character emotions is to help you make sense of what is going on by explaining how characters feel about the world around them.


Let's look at how different emotions create different meanings.

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