Find the key emotion; this may be all you need know to find your short story.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Bear recently blogged about writerly talents, where she mentioned earning pathos. A day or so later (if that), I stumbled across the Fitzgerald quote. Who am I to argue with synchronicity?

So I've been thinking about the requirements for Story. My current checklist is pretty succinct (and, I dare say, pretty standard): character; setting; conflict; theme; symbol. I don't use it as a checklist when trying to grow a story; I'm still more comfortable letting it emerge in the first hectic and unordered and schizophrenic draft. Although these days I'm more likely to notice it growing in the first draft than be surprised when I find it in the words on a read-through.

But I do pause, when the story feels stuck or thwarted, and try to pin the checklist up against what I have so far, trying to find the issues I haven't fully considered. Trying to discover what it is that's sticking.

Before now, I've only considered "the key emotion" on a subconscious level. I put on the right "mood" music. I let it grow unnoticed in the draft. In the read-through I'll notice when the tone or emotion changes, and I notice the prevailing undercurrent of feeling, and I try to bring that out on a redraft.

But what if I were to start considering the key emotion before words on paper? Would I find my characters hide less, if I stop and consider the mood of the piece they're constructing with their actions? Would I find the telling detail easier to spot in my setting if I knew the voice of the story, the mood through which I want this world filtered?

This reminded me of one of my clarion-mates, who told me she had a habit of creating lists for her stories before she actually began writing. The lists gave her a choice of adjectives to use in the story: briny rather than salty, for example. Which strikes me as a method of deliberately conveying the key emotion.

One more item to add to my checklist, it seems.