The horror genre is the easiest to study for emotional impact because horror movies strive to create fear and horror in the minds of the audience. Romance stories are also easy to study because they strive to create love and happiness in the minds of the audience.
Of course, all types of stories need to create some dominant emotion at all times. An action thriller can create tension and suspense (“Die Hard”) while a drama might inspire the audience into cheering for an underdog (“Rocky”).
Regardless of the type of story you’re creating, you need to strive for a dominant emotion you want the audience to experience. Once you know the emotion you want your story to create, you’ll automatically know what types of conflict your hero must face.
In a horror film, the dominant emotion is obviously horror in both the hero and the audience. That means the hero in a horror film is constantly striving to avoid (escape from) horror while the villain is constantly trying to terrify the hero (and the audience). Any conflict that fails to do this simply has no place in a horror movie.
That’s why it’s important to know the dominant emotion you want your story to convey because once you know this emotion, you’ll automatically know the type of conflict your hero must face.
In a romance, the hero is constantly striving for love while obstacles and the villain is constantly trying to keep the hero from finding love. In romantic comedies like “The Proposal,” the hero is constantly trying to find love but the obstacles in her way strive to keep her from achieving that love.
So what’s your story’s dominant emotion? Whatever it is, every conflict must either keep the hero from achieving that emotion or avoiding that emotion.
In the case of horror movies, the hero is constantly trying to escape the horror while the villain is constantly trying to overwhelm the hero with fright.
In romance movies, the hero is constantly trying to achieve love while the villain (or circumstances) constantly try to keep the hero from finding love.
Find the emotional core of your story and you’ll automatically know that every conflict in your story must either push the hero towards this dominant emotion or pull the hero away from achieving this dominant emotion.
A story without emotion is simply a documentary. Make sure your story has a strong, solid emotional core because emotions are what audiences remember long after they’ve forgotten specific plot points or special effects.