People don’t want stories to entertain them but to take them on an emotional roller coaster. That means your story must constantly evoke specific types of emotions at every moment.
Think of a typical horror movie. The opening typically shows something horrifying. Then the middle shows the helpless victims heading towards their doom. Then the end shows the final result. At all times, there’s always a sense of dread and suspense.
In “Don’t Breathe,” the opening shows a man dragging a woman down an abandoned street. We have no idea what’s going on but this opening sets the tone for the story. The middle introduces us to our hero, a young woman who wants to raise enough money so she can take off with her little sister in search of a better life away from her psychologically abusive mother. Then the end shows the hero fighting against a blind villain who’s trying to keep her trapped in his house.
All types of genres work the same way. A romance constantly teases about finding love in every scene. A comedy keeps us laughing with jokes and humor. A thriller keeps our adrenaline up as we watch a hero overcome numerous dangers.
The key is that when you write a story, you must know which genre your story falls under so you can evoke the right emotions.
One huge mistake novices constantly make is to change the genre of their story. Horror writers try this all the time by making us think the story is a comedy or a romance, then suddenly surprising us with horror.
This never works.
The moment you show us what type of story you’re telling, the audience is going to expect to experience the emotions from that story genre from start to finish. A comedy can’t make us laugh in the beginning and then suddenly horrify us with a serial killer in the end.
In “The Lost City,” the story is a romantic comedy, yet a man gets part of his head blown off by a sniper in the middle. This might seem to violate the expectations of a comedy, but in the end, we see this man still alive. When the hero asks how he survived, he simply says he only uses 10% of his brain so when the sniper shot him in the head, he simply switched to using a different 10% of his brain so that’s why he’s still alive. This silly and illogical explanation keeps the story’s tone firmly in the comedy genre.
To evoke emotions, you need to know which genre your story falls under such as:
- Fear (Horror)
- Laughter (Comedy)
- Excitement (Action-thriller)
- Love (Romance)
- Mental challenge (Mystery)
Many stories embrace two or more genres where one genre dominates. In “Ghostbusters,” the story is mostly a comedy but with horror and romantic elements blended in. In “The Lost City,” the story is mostly a comedy but with romance elements mixed in. In “Pretty Woman,” the story is mostly a romance with comedy mixed in.
Every audience wants to experience strong emotions. Stories fail when they don’t evoke strong emotions consistently.
Think off a bad movie that simply bored you. It doesn’t matter if the hero is flying a jet fighter and blowing enemies out of the sky if you’re watching this and not feeling any strong emotion.
People loved “Top Gun: Maverick” because it evoked strong emotions of patriotism with action. People didn’t care about “Devotion,” a Korean War movie involving fighter planes because the story failed to evoke any strong emotions.
If you want to write a successful story, you must constantly evoke strong emotions in the audience from start to finish. You don’t want audiences to think; you want them to feel. The more you can make them feel intense emotions, the more appealing your story will be.