Find the Emotional Core of Your Story

What makes a great movie is the emotional story. Nobody watches “Titanic” over and over again to see if the ocean liner sinks or not. Everybody watches “Titanic” multiple times because they want to experience the emotional story of the hero, Rose, striving to escape a dead-end future where she feels forced into marrying a man she doesn’t love.

Everyone can relate to the emotional story behind Rose whether you’re a man or a woman. You don’t have to know what it’s like to survive the sinking of an ocean liner to share that same sense of oppression and hopelessness that comes from trying to escape a restrictive life and find a world where you can thrive.

Now watch a bad movie, such as almost any sequel, and you’ll find that sequels take what made the original so great and overloads it with physical action while draining it of emotional content. The end result is a sequel that appears more like a pale copy of the original because it’s drained of its emotional core much like a corpse drained of blood.

What made “Babe” such a popular movie about a sheep-herding pig? It wasn’t watching a bunch of animals talking to each other (which is the mistake “Babe 2” made). Instead, the appeal is about a pig striving to become greater than its predestined fate.

In “Babe,” the hero is a pig raised on a farm to be slaughtered and turned into a Sunday ham dinner. However, Babe saves himself by learning how to herd sheep. As silly as this story may sound, it’s a wonderfully inspirational story about an underdog overcoming tremendous odds in a quirky world of sheep herding competition.

When you’re creating a pitch for your story, don’t think just what happens physically because that’s boring. Add in the emotional element. For example, a bland pitch for “Die Hard” might be “A lone man must battle an army of terrorists in a skyscraper.”

That might sound interesting, but to really grab a reader, you must appeal to an emotion like this: “A lone man must save his wife by battling an army of terrorists in a skyscraper.”

The pitch without emotion simply paints a generic image of a man fighting terrorists without any focus. The pitch with emotion intrigues us by making us wonder how his wife and terrorists are mixed in and how can this lone man save his wife against an army of terrorists.

Notice that the pitch with the emotional content behind it gets a reader thinking while the pitch without the emotional content feels flat and bland in comparison?

Try this emotionless pitch: “A woman must survive the sinking of the Titanic.”

Kind of boring because we don’t know anything about this woman so we don’t really care if she survives or not. Now toss in an emotional element like this: “A woman must escape from an arranged marriage with a man she doesn’t love, except there’s no where to escape because she’s sailing on the doomed Titanic’s maiden voyage.”

Now we suddenly care more about this woman and her physical predicament becomes vastly more important and interesting.

So when defining your story, don’t think about making it more convoluted or more action-packed. Think about the emotion behind this action and that emotion is what your story is really about.

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