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, 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
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.