Q&A: Emotions vs. Logic

Should fight scenes be fueled by emotion or logic? Is it possible to separate the two? I feel like nowadays people take pride in their ability to be ‘logical’ and completely emotionless when debating so I wondered about physical fights. I’ve seen a character who expresses little emotion win fights because they don’t get hotheaded but I’ve also seen them portrayed passionless compared to a genuinely emotional hero. Which is best realistically?

Generally speaking, either one is realistic. As in, both occur in the real world. There are police blotters filled with stories about some idiot who let themselves get riled up and did something stupid. People who got into altercations because their emotions ran wild.

Also, there is a legitimate point where the kind of character you’re writing might not be particularly analytical. A lot of people do make their decision based on “gut” or emotion. A lot of people value, “grit,” or conviction as a deciding factor in who they think has more merit.

This also breaks down to the idea that the victor must be the one with the “correct” position. “Might makes right.” It’s easy to take the extra step to say that the person who “believes” should be the victor. This is a mistake.

Victory is dependent on two things: having a clear objective, and way to achieve it. Going into a fight without a goal is a recipe for defeat, even if you emerge victorious in the moment.

So, here’s the problem. An emotional fighter who isn’t thinking will be outmaneuvered by a logical one every time. Having goals, making assessments, changing those in the moment, are all key to victory. Again, there’s an old adage that: no plan survives first contact with the enemy. Just because you had a plan doesn’t mean it will work, and sometimes you simply need to scramble to fix the situation.

So, you actually asked if fights should be emotional or logical: the answer is, “yes.” As much as logic and rational thought are important, emotion part being human. Fights need both. There need to be emotional stakes, and those will affect your characters. There needs to be a rational element, or your characters will be trivial to subvert.

People aren’t a single continuum between logical and emotional. You can be both. If you want to talk about emotion, it’s more important to think of that in the context of how strong a character’s emotions are, and how good their control over them is. That’s not really related to their ability to think critically, but their current emotional state is. So if they’re under a lot of stress, or getting desperate, their ability to think clearly will be impaired.

The clearer your character’s mind, the better their judgement will be. That said, this doesn’t make someone an emotionless rock, and depending on how your characters operate, it’s entirely possible they’ll be deteriorating over the course of the story, meaning their ability to function will be increasingly impaired. How far you take that concept depends on your story and the kind of story you’re talking about, though I’d recommend measuring any deterioration like this carefully. Also worth noting, these states can shift during a fight. So, it’s possible a character could degrade as the situation around them changes. That said, something truly traumatic would need to occur to significantly shift their state of mind in a mater of moments.

Someone who keeps their emotions in check still has them. It can be harder to identify their emotional state, but they still have them. Just because someone is extremely cold and analytical, that just means they’ve got their psyche under control, not that they’re an emotionless robot. Keep track of characters like this carefully, because when they do show hints of emotion, your audience will know something has started going seriously sideways.

-Starke

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