Monday, 8 October 2012

Story Is A Drug

Making the reader want to know what happens next in a story is an excellent way to get them to turn the page and keep reading. But that’s not what hooks readers.

Curiosity will only provide part of the glue that makes readers stick with a story. The truth is even if the reader knows what happens next, if they’ve read it before, seen it before, heard spoilers, know the original version... they can still enjoy it.

But if you already know what happens in a story, why is it still worth reading?


You may have noticed when watching the coming attractions at the movies (or possibly online) that trailers give away a lot of the story. In fact they give away pretty much everything. The best gags, the coolest effects, the big twist. Why?

Movie people aren’t dumb, not when it comes to making money. They may not give a damn about you and your move-going experience, but they want your cash, so what is their rationale for stripping naked first, and then asking you if you want to pay for a lap dance?

The thing is, finding out what happens in a movie or a book is a very small part of storytelling.

How you feel about what happens is the important part.

When it comes to making money with movies, it’s getting people to see the movie more than once (sometimes five, six, seven times) that makes a movie a blockbuster.

Those people who go again and again, they know what happens. They know the twists and turns and that the best friend will betray the hero and what-have-you. It’s not the ‘finding out’ that people are going for.

What people respond to is the way they feel when the lovers finally kiss, or the timer on the bomb stops on one second, or the Karate Kid kicks that guy in the face. It’s the emotion that’s important, not the reveal. You know Rue’s going to die, but you still feel it every time Katniss gives the salute.

And like a rollercoaster, you may know what’s coming, you may have ridden this ride many times, but your stomach still does flip-flops. It’s a physical reaction — and so are emotions. And they can be repeated by the same trigger. Not always at the same intensity, but close enough to make it a powerful experience. You still get the hit.

Wanting to know what happens next is a technique. It’s a way of creating a cascading momentum that keeps you moving forward through a story. It’s what makes you automatically give the correct response to a knock-knock joke, even if you hate knock-knock jokes.

But the satisfaction of a good story isn’t from finding out what happens next, it’s from experiencing genuine emotion (even though it's created artifically).

So in order to make your story as impactful on the reader as possible, keeping back information that you then reveal (it was his best friend who was the bad guy!) has limited use. 

The emotions reaction (Oh, no, not the best friend!) is the important part. Finding a way to make that as visceral and deeply felt as possible for the reader is what will make the reader value the experience.
I’ll be looking at how to make scenes emotionally effective in Thursday’s post (I’m back to two posts a week now that the summer's over).

If you found this post useful please give it a retweet, cheers.

 

26 comments:

sterlingsop said...

What a superb post!!! You have captured EXACTLY what goes on when someone reads a book or watches a movie and I've never heard it expressed in that way before. I'm a musician and I have to say that the same argument applies to performing a piece of music or listening to a piece again and again. You know exactly what's coming (you've been rehearsing it for weeks!) but it's that emotional journey that is undertaken that serves up the enjoyment of it.

Great post - definitely going to retweet this one!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Makes perfect sense! Get the reader emotionally involved and they will be hooked. And usually people become emotionally involved with the characters, not the storyline.

mooderino said...

@sterlingsop-cheers.

@Alex-who knew emotion manipulation could be so profitable?

@Ruby_Barnes said...

Great post, M! If we can whet our readers' appetite then they'll want the main course. Proof of the pudding (I'll stop with the cuisine analogies in a minute) is in those film trailers that show the only funny part of a supposed comdey film which then disappoints.
Building anticipation through book descriptions, review extracts, hmm. Food for thought.

Donna Hole said...

I have tons of books on my shelves that I have read several times over. People are always asking me why I keep books and why I read them so many times if I know what happens. I ask them why they buy DVDs and rewatch the same movies over and overs until they have the dialogue memorized.

..........dhole

mooderino said...

@Ruby-comedies with an emotional base can win over readers/viewers and the funny bits are always funny, I think.

@Donna-knowing the plot is a lot easier than pinpointing when you felt the emotional impact. But the emotion is what stays with you.

Maru said...

Great post! Sometimes I spend so much time crafting the perfect story that I forget what actually matters.
Thank you for reminding me!

mooderino said...

@Maru-sometimes I spend so much time explaining what matters, I forget to put it in my own work.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Makes perfect sense to get the reader emotionally involved in the story so that they can continue reading without any break or distractions.

mooderino said...

@Rachna-emotions are very powerful, even pretend ones.

Maria McKenzie said...

Wonderful post! It's all about becoming emotionally invested, and I love watching movies over and over that have really touched me!

mooderino said...

@Maria-thanks.

Lorena said...

Excellent post, Moody. Although curiosity plays an important role in hooking the reader, emotion is essential. Unfortunately, it's so hard to figure out how to do it. I'm not sure it can be taught (do you?) Honestly, I don't know if I've been successful at touching the reader, but I'm hoping I have! Looking forward to reading your follow up article on this subject.

mooderino said...

@Lorena-I definitely think it can be taught, although it's easier to explain with specifics rather than generalities. However, if I give an example of how to create fear it might be hard for some people to translate that into their romance novel, even though the methodology is basically the same.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

I think that this post should be open to highly subjective opinions. Men and women (for example) have different minds and each will want something from a story that the other will either agree or disagree with. Some may desire an emotional connection. Others may want more science or more plot. Honestly, to go anywhere with this, the writer first needs to know "To whom am I writing this?" and once that answer is known, then to tell the story and make sure it finds the hands of that particular reader.

mooderino said...

@Michael-I'm not sure that's true. Men and women obviously do have different preferences (in general) but a guy's reaction to a cool fight scene or stunt is emotional, even if that emotion is Holy Shit!

That said, I'm very much open to differing views on this. My ideas are mainly made up as I go along.

Lydia Kang said...

I know exactly which movies I like watching over and over...it's all about those moments, and the momentum.

mooderino said...

@Lydia-I think there's always a stand out scene or moment in movies, and in books too.

Jennifer Hillier said...

Good stuff, Mood! I know for me that if I'm emotionally invested in the characters, I'll follow them anywhere, and won't stop turning pages until I find out what happened to them.

debravega said...

What a great way of putting it! Story IS a drug, a hugely addictive one. I am always looking for the stories with the emotional rush.

When I listen to the soundtrack from The Hunger Games movie, I feel the tears well up when it's the music that plays when Rue dies. That's how powerful that moment is in the story.

Nate Wilson said...

Story is a drug, and bookstores/libraries are my dealers. And though I like to be surprised, I'll never choose it over strong narrative and characters. Give me story every time. No, really, give it to me. I'm in serious withdrawal here.

mooderino said...

@Jennifer-emotional connection has gotten me to read a lot of bad books.

@debra-as a trigger, the need for intense emotion is very powerful.

@Nate-they hook you in school: free books! free books! Evil bastards.

Assm Khan said...

Wonderful read; glad to find your blog... :)
Visit my Blog--> A Happier Life

mooderino said...

@Ass-thanks, will be sure to visit your blog.

Blogger said...

Get daily ideas and guides for making $1,000s per day FROM HOME totally FREE.
CLICK HERE TO DISCOVER

Blogger said...

I have just installed iStripper, so I can have the sexiest virtual strippers on my desktop.

post a comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
 

MOODY WRITING © 2009

PSD to Blogger Templates realized by OOruc.com & PSD Theme designed by PSDThemes.com