Randy Ingermanson once said that people read books because they want to have an emotional experience. While that's certainly true of Twilight, I think it holds true for all books. Even books about negative characters can be interesting to us because of their emotional content due to what James Scott Bell calls a "'car wreck' dynamic." Ironically, even though we’ve all experienced many, many emotions throughout our lives, few humans are experts. So, depicting them in our stories can seem an impossible task. However, as with most things, we can learn to be better at emotions.
But where to begin? Emotions are complicated and confusing. Consider these obstacles:
- Many lists of emotions have been generated, yet no matter how much they overlap, they never quite converge. Some are even in conflict with one another.
- There is no agreed-upon method to organize emotions. Do emotions resemble a list, a tree structure, or a three-dimensional shape? Can they even be visualized?
- There is no agreed-upon method to name emotions. What someone calls "Joy" is called "Happiness" by another.
- As if this weren't complex enough, there also seem to be levels of intensity to emotions. What is the difference between Affection, Love, and Ecstasy but the level of intensity?
- Emotions seem to somehow blend together to form new emotions that are distinct from their progenitors.
- Even Wikipedia, a site that normally excels at harnessing the collective knowledge of the human race, fails to adequately deliver on a comprehensive list and understanding of emotions. The current list includes 80 separate emotions yet many overlap. And some are, well, foreign.
- Joy vs Sadness
- Trust vs Disgust
- Fear vs Anger
Also note that the two-dimensional flower can fold into a spinning top shape as shown in the lower-left corner. The tip of the top and the center of the flower is the point of emotional zero. Plutchik's approach satisfies our needs by providing:
- a semantically-consistent set of distinct emotions
- an organizational structure
- a standard set of names
- levels of intensity in emotions
- the blending of primary emotions to form new ones
- the concept of emotional "opposites" as mutually
- a blank, non-emotional state