The Emotion Delivery Business

We writers work in the emotion delivery business.

We’re dealers in the most valuable human possession. This is our game, we lure you in and make you an offer you can’t refuse: “Psst, over here. Want some emotion? I got a real good package here, man, guaranteed high, make you feel stronger and deeper than ever before. Just a few bucks, man, and you can travel to worlds unseen with people you’ll never forget, do the wildest things at no risk whatsoever, and have the time of your life! So whattaya say?”

And readers are fierce addicts who are only in it for the ride. All they care about is to get a funny, gritty, intense, unpredictable,Β haunting, heart-pounding, powerful, seductive, enthralling, gripping and incredible ride, a life changing adventure, a hugely satisfying experience. They come to us to be dealt emotions, nothing else. Even curiosity is an emotion. Interest is an emotion. Thirst for knowledge is an emotion. Every single successful work of fiction out there evokes strong emotions, regardless of genre or medium.

Readers want to see and feel extraordinary things and have their hearts and guts twisted like a pretzel. And when we write stories, we commit to give them exactly that. Our sole obligation and vocation is to give our readers the means to feel bigger than they are.

But writers forget. We get so wound up in structure, style and technical choices, that we forget these are just tools, and no story is really about them. Or, when was the last time you went to a movie or read a book because the blurb said “Well-structured, great plot points, fresh dialogue?” No. Stories are about creating emotions, everything else is a means to this end.

Our job is to seduce the reader, keep him hanging and longing for more, and then reward him beyond expectation. Our biggest promise to him when we create a story, is that it will be an unforgettable and unmitigated experience. Only when we accomplish that, are we accomplished as writers.

“The reader is entitled to be entertained, instructed, amused, maybe all three. If he quits in the middle feeling his time has been wasted, you’re in violation.” ~Larry Niven

The only way to keep the reader turning pages is for him to experience vivid, strong emotions at the right times in the story. The opening scene has to capture his interest, further developments must hold that interest, the obstacles, troubles and complications of the story must gradually increase that interest until the reader is intimately invested, the climax must exalt him and transform his perception, and the resolution must deeply reward him.

This is the level of excellence we should strive for.

There shall be no redundancy, no neutrality and no confusion. There shall only be the ups and downs of a roller-coaster, the exaltation and relief, tension and release, pull and push of an unforgettable experience.

“Always grab the reader by the throat in the first paragraph, send your thumbs into his windpipe in the second, and hold him against the wall until the tagline.” ~Paul O’Neil

 

Recommended reading:

Wired For Story, by Lisa Cron
Hooked, by Les Edgerton
Conflict and Suspense, by James Scott Bell
Writing For Emotional Impact, by Karl Iglesias
Story, by Robert McKee
– and generally every top notch screenwriting book.

14 Replies to “The Emotion Delivery Business”

    1. That’s exactly what happens, Mood. Most beginning writers believe emotion is a side-effect of a good plot, more like an extra. But emotion is the purpose and soul of the story, and all else should be planned in such a way as to maximize the emotion. πŸ™‚

      Thanks for stopping by to comment!

      Like

    1. If not while plotting or drafting, then at least during revision — we should milk each scene and moment of the story for all the realistic emotional potential it’s got!

      Thanks for the comment Mike!

      Like

  1. Great post! You’re right, a lot of writers forget this seemingly obvious goal at the heart of good storytelling, hoping it will take care of itself as long as they follow the various “rules” that pop up here and there. It’s admittedly difficult to pull yourself back from your work and try to dowse the emotional impact when you’ve been so enveloped by the words on the screen that you can hardly tell the white space from the black. But that’s what beta readers are for, eh? And once you get a grip on the emotional content of your story, and how to tap into it, it’s hard not to find someone who likes it.

    It’s also the simplest answer to all of those books and movies that we highfalutin writers like to decry as poorly written, yet still go on to sell oodles and make boatloads of cash for the “bad” writers that put them out. Sure, fads and trends and mob mentality all play a role, but all those kids on youtube sobbing over sparkly vampires have clearly been emotionally impacted, whether I like it or not. πŸ˜›

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    1. Emotions are exactly the reason many novels or screenplays work, which are otherwise very badly written from a technical point of view. Readers pay much more attention to the emotional reactions they have to a story while they read it, than they do to the technique that’s used. We writers often forget that, because we forget what it feels like to not be a writer and not know how the magic card trick works.

      Thanks a lot for the comment, James! πŸ™‚

      Like

  2. I agree completely with everything. Usually, when I read a book that lets me down, it’s because the writer didn’t sock me in the feels hard enough, or at all. And, he/she probably didn’t even try to.

    I never thought of writing as being like dealing drugs, but that analogy works pretty well. πŸ™‚

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    1. Thanks for stopping by to comment, Cathy! πŸ™‚
      That’s unfortunately often true, that writers forget to target emotion in their writing, and it’s a shame. Trying to make a story work without evoking emotion in the reader is like trying to make a bloodless puppet dance. It just feels and looks unnatural. Sorry for the extra metaphor! πŸ˜€ I like the one with the drug dealing better too. πŸ˜‰

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