Stories don’t exist just for entertainment although that’s important. What’s far more crucial is that stories make a point and that point is best told through a strong emotional reaction of the hero.
The stronger this emotional reaction in both the hero and the audience, the more memorable the story. In “Juno,” a young girl gets pregnant and is thinking about getting an abortion. However, she changes her mind when she learns that babies have fingernails. This small detail changes her mind to aborting her baby to deciding to find parents who can raise her baby in a way that she could never do.
The best stories don’t try to preach one sided opinions at us like a bad religious sermon. Instead, the best stories let us experience the emotion of both sides of the question. In “Juno,” we can see why a teenage girl would want to abort her baby to avoid messing up her own life. When Juno learns that babies have fingernails, that shifts the hero’s focus along with the audience’s focus to thinking how can we not let a baby have a chance at life?
Then the story shifts to Juno trying to complete her original goal. Originally, Juno wanted just to get on with her life by aborting her baby. Then she changes her mind and decides to find a way to get on with her life while giving her baby up for adoption. Thus we get to see both sides of the abortion debate.
“Terminator 2” creates a strong emotional change by asking us whether killing to take a human life is justified. In the beginning, the hero (the good Terminator) thinks nothing about killing people to get what he wants. By the end of the story, he learns that killing is wrong and that human life has a value.
Ultimately when you tell a story, look for the emotional debate you want your story to tell. Then tell both sides of that debate and let your hero decide which is the better option. Dramatize the two sides of the emotional debate and you’ll create a far more interesting story than if you just tried to create a story with lots of gunfire, explosions, car crashes, and fighting.
Look at all the best movies and they all have a strong emotional component to them. Look at all the bad movies (“Jaws IV: The Revenge”) and you’ll find that they lack any emotional change in the hero whatsoever. When the hero doesn’t go through an emotional change such as learning that killing is wrong (“Terminator 2”) or that abortion may not be the answer (“Juno”), then the hero will feel flat and boring. When the hero (and the audiences) gets to experience both sides of an emotional debate, then the impact will be far stronger.
Remember, people remember emotions far better than they remember action, logic, or facts. If you want your story to succeed, make sure you tackle a strong emotion. To learn the importance of emotion in a story, read “The Story Factor”.