Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

Motion and Emotion

In our modern lexicon, motion and emotion would appear to have entirely different meanings, but it’s no accident that the words are only one letter apart.  They share the same root – from the Latin movēre, meaning to move.  One refers to external movement, or the movement of bodies or objects, the other refers to internal movement, or the movement of the heart. Both have an essential place in children’s picture books, as Jane Yolen pointed out recently in her list of “Ten Words Every Picture Book Author Must Know.”

In my last blog post, I wrote about illustratability – and how the story must be active and visually progressive in order to lend itself to compelling artwork. Jane talked about avoiding ‘talking heads’ and internal dialogue, and the best way to achieve this is to focus on the movement of the characters and other objects throughout the story. The illustrations can then reflect – and extend – that movement.

Christine Davenier, the wonderful illustrator of our Very Fairy Princess series, is a master at conveying movement in her artwork. Our little heroine is constantly in motion – twirling, dancing, pointing, running… even when she’s doing something as seemingly static as pouting, it’s full of energy, legs firmly planted, arms akimbo, every muscle in her face in active expression. Often there is even an extra brush stroke or two reflecting the direction or pattern of the movement. Our job as authors is to write with this movement in mind, and to that end, verbs are our best friends.  We want to make sure that everything we write moves our character and the story forward – through physical space, through her day or days, and through her emotional journey from beginning to middle to end.

This motion must be accompanied by progression of emotion. Every character must arrive at some place new, emotionally, by the end of a story. They must  have learned something, or grown in some way so as to be different than they were at the beginning.  Finally, we want our reader to so identify with our characters’ journeys that they, too, are moved.  When our characters feel excitement, our readers’ hearts should beat a little faster. When our characters feel fearful, our readers should feel their own share of anxiety on behalf of the character. And when our characters learn something new about themselves, our readers should experience the same ‘aha!’ moment of triumph.  Motion and emotion are, in fact, inseparable – and both are essential for a truly satisfying story.



4 Responses to “Motion and Emotion”
  1. Beth says:

    I was delighted to see Geraldine sparkling beside this post!

    I think I’m doing well with motion. My protagonists are far more active than I remember being at their age! I actually envy them their energy! Your encouragement to use “juicy” verbs whenever possible has certainly changed my writing for the better, and for that I thank you.

    But emotion… oh dear. Not just incidents of emotion, but progression of emotion. That’s the tricky part for me. In the picture book project I’m working on at the moment, I’m not sure now that there is satisfactory progression of emotional growth. (This is not the manuscript you’re familiar with, this is a new one.) In fact, as I think about it, the story is perhaps only a “charming anecdote” at the moment. A charming anecdote is not enough to catch and hold a child’s attention, nor to make it worth the while of a publisher in the first place, or a librarian or purchaser in the second place. I need to revisit that story with your words about emotion informing my thoughts. (And I thought this one was nearly ready to send for manuscript evaluation! I was, apparently, not correct.)

  2. Joanna says:

    Emma, I plan on printing out all ten of these posts and adding them to the back of my JWFK file as a resource to return to each time I start a new picture book. I like this partnership of motion and emotion. In the manuscript I am working on at the moment about tortoises, there are two waves of both motion and emotion (it has been interesting trying to get a lot of motion with tortoises!!) with a kind of drop and resurgence in the middle… I think it works, but shall be seeking out critique on this. I think I shall also reread the Very Fairy Princess and a few others on my shelves just focussing on the choice of verbs.

  3. Patricia says:


    Enjoyed your thoughtful discussion on motion and emotion. Hadn’t thought about the words being one letter a part. Like the desicription of movement of the body, and movement of the heart. I feel like I’m doing well with the progression of emotional growth. And, am getting a better grasp of showing with juicy verbs.

    Good, idea Joanna, to print out these blogs. I have printed some. And, I like the 5 word/sentence Diane started on the Hub — which Beth suggested we try to make them “hook sentences,” based on Emma’s earlier blog discussion. Great way for us to turn Emma’s suggestions into a fun and practical exercise that is beneficial. We do listen to you, Emma! 🙂

  4. Diane says:

    What a good idea Joanna on both printing out these and revisiting some of our more familar picture books on our shelves for active verbs. When I read the heading of this post I smiled to myself as it reminds me of over a year ago now, when I offered to write a little story for my husbands niece in Australia. I asked her by email to draw me a picture of a little girl standing by a tree. A day or two later she rang me and asked “what emotion should the tree have, Auntie?” she asked. I was dumbfounded, totally taken by surprise at how children view things so differently to us. She wanted to make sure she had the right emotion (as well as motion) in her picture. I now look at my writing differently everytime I remember that.

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