Emotional Structure: Creating the Story Beneath the Plot by Peter Dunne


EMOTIONAL STRUCTURE is a book for screenwriters, but it is equally valuable for novelists. In it, Dunne explains why the underlying emotional arc (what he calls the “story”) is so much more important than the surface plot. In fact, he claims that plot only exists to reveal character. While I wouldn’t go that far, I think that Dunne at least has the order right. Readers and movie audiences are always more concerned with the decisions, motivations, and growth of the hero than anything that happens to him. Without character change, a plot will be hollow, and the audience won’t care.

Some writers start with a plot, writing an action-fueled story, taking the hero’s inner life for granted or tacking it on later. But the author would be better served by first deciding what emotional change they are going to put the hero through. The writer can then carefully craft a plot around that change. Plot is extremely flexible, while character growth is absolute.

Dunne takes writer through the three acts of a movie (or novel), paying special attention to act two. If you have trouble with “sagging middles,” EMOTIONAL STRUCTURE is for you. Dunne uses examples from movies like Witness, Lost in Translation, and The Professional to illustrate his points. Less helpful is Dunne’s inclusion of his own script, called Indiscretion. It’s hard to get useful lessons from a movie we’ve never seen. But even if you decline to read Dunne’s script, the rest of the book is well worth the price of admission.

EMOTIONAL STRUCTURE is a long book, dense with information, and it’s best read slowly. Don’t be intimidated by its length, though. If you’re an experienced writer, you’ll find that much of what Dunne is telling you do, you’ve already done. A lot of his advice is obvious, but only in hindsight. Dunne makes it overt, so you can see all the good that’s there, and hopefully, do more of it.


EMOTIONAL STRUCTURE can be found here.


rating: 4 stars



This book is best for: intermediate to advanced writers


I recommend this book

One thought on “Emotional Structure: Creating the Story Beneath the Plot by Peter Dunne

  1. Sounds cool. I’ve been reading a lot of emotionally flat books lately. Major boring.

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