Practical Emotional Structure by Jodi Henley


PRACTICAL EMOTIONAL STRUCTURE promises a “plain English guide to the transformational character arc and emotional theory.” But there are two things wrong with this. First, Henley doesn’t seem to understand what transformational character arc means. Second, she really doesn’t understand what plain English means.

Henley starts with a chapter on targeting the audience. Of course consideration for the readership is important, but to put that before the concerns of story feels backward. Henley approaches market research in a very shallow way. She suggests you figure out the main emotional concerns of your target audience and then contrive a story around those triggers. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense for the story or not. As long as you can put a child in danger, make a family relationship break down, or put a heroine together with her one true love, all story considerations are secondary.

Henley’s big idea is that everything a character does in the present can be traced back to one single event in their past. Something like, “My house burned down as a child and that’s why I always freeze in new situations.” (She calls it the “core event.”) But this simplistic view of characters tends to flatten rather than increase their depth.

PRACTICAL EMOTIONAL STRUCTURE is repetitive, written in jargon, and poorly organized. It could have used a good editor. The made-up terminology doesn’t really make sense and muddies Henley’s points.

But confusing, rather than clarifying, could be the aim of PRACTICAL EMOTIONAL STRUCTURE. Readers read novels to have an emotional experience. Writers know we need to write the hero’s emotional transformation along with the external plot. It’s something storytellers already instinctively do. However, Henley needs us to believe it’s difficult so she can save us with her instruction.  I’m seeing more and more books like this and I will no longer be taken in by them.

Neither should you.


Rating: 1 star


I recommend Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias or Emotional Structure by Peter Dunne instead of this book.

6 thoughts on “Practical Emotional Structure by Jodi Henley

  1. Blech. I know too many authors who couldn’t care less about the story, it’s about targeting a specific audience. Thus the stories are disingenuous. And for me – DNF.

    • I’m starting to see the result of Henley’s approach in some romance novels. The man and woman have no earthy reason to get together, but get together they do, because that’s “what the audience wants.”

      I think this is the wrong approach. What readers truly want is a deep, well thought-out story that makes sense.

      • I’m seeing it in every popular sub-genre. Especially YA and NA. Extremely annoying, cloying and, as I said, DNF-worthy.

  2. Wow, traced back to “one single event in their past”, huh? That’s the Big Bang Theory of motivation! And “this simplistic view of characters tends to flatten” them? No wonder the book I’ve been reading about the creation of the Universe says that the Universe is flat! My source for this merriment: Before The Big Bang, by John Gribbin, a Kindle Single. All of this, by the way, just in case, in praise of your review. I’m steering clear of that big bag, of wind.

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