Base story on overcoming emotional disturbance

Often a story is not about defending the world from some outside menace (out-of-whack event) or about obtaining some item (Macguffin) but is about overcoming some internal, man vs. himself struggle. In science fiction writing workshops, this type of storyline is called an emotional disturbance.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. define an “emotional disturbance” as “when a character’s inner state is unstable and he must do something to restore equilibrium.” In short, to solve the main problem of the story, the main character must undergo an inner journey of self-discovery and change.

A common example of an emotional disturbance is Luke Skywalker’s journey from self-doubting farm boy to a confident Jedi knight, as seen in “Star Wars IV-VI.” Skywalker garners skills and a deeper understanding of the universe – and himself along the way – through the mentoring of Obi-wan Kenobi and Yoda. These experiences cause him to grow intellectually and spiritually.

Often stories that center on an emotional disturbance include an out-of-whack event or a Macguffin. Skywalker wouldn’t have experienced an emotional disturbance if not for an out-of-whack event – the rebel theft of the Death Star blueprints – that set the movie series into motion. In quest novels, such as “The Lord of the Rings”, the seeking of an object often sends the main character on a journey that parallels his internal struggle and growth. Usually the main character must overcome some internal flaw in order for the out-of-whack event to be resolved or for the object to be recovered.

Sometimes, however, the emotional disturbance is the reason the out-of-whack event occurs. This typically occurs in stories where he main character falls, and we learn through his descent about the nature of good and evil. Such is the case in “Star Wars III” in which Anakin Skywalker’s gradually shift to the dark side helps cause the collapse of the Republic.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.