Make a Story Stronger by Appealing to Common Fears

There’s a reason why horror and action-thrillers work so well in global markets. That’s because everyone can understand the fear of the supernatural or a serial killer in a horror story, or getting shot by a hit man or criminal in an action-thriller.

That’s also why comedies and dramas don’t do as well in overseas markets because humor and drama is more subjective. “Barbie” flopped in South Korea because most young Korean girls have never played with Barbie and don’t know what it is. Unless dramas are rooted in universal emotions like love or honor, they can often seem puzzling as people wonder why characters would act in ways against their own best interests.

So if you’re writing a story, think of what a cave man would understand, which are strong emotions:

  • Fear (horror)
  • Fight (action-thriller)
  • Love (romance)

Study comedy movies and you’ll often find their foundation is based on a strong emotion. “The 40-Year Old Virgin” wasn’t just about a man losing his virginity, but about a man growing up and maturing. “Ghostbusters” wasn’t just about hunting ghosts, but also included a love story. “Bridesmaids” wasn’t just about a woman struggling to be her best friend’s bridesmaid, but to become a stronger, independent woman.

Study drama movies and you’ll find the same thing. “Killers of the Flower Moon” is a mystery/action-thriller where Native Americans are getting murdered for their wealth. “West Side Story” is really a story of forbidden love. “Thelma and Louise” is an action-thriller buried within women struggling against a male-dominated world.

Watch a boring movie and you’ll find they often lack any emotional element whatsoever. “The Layover” is a comedy about two women fighting over the same man after they meet him when their flight is delayed. Yet it lacks a strong emotional story so it’s nothing but characters trying to be funny (and failing time and time again).

“The Cell” is a horror story but because it lacks any emotional element to make us care about the characters, we just get to watch characters we don’t care about getting killed one by one.

When writing your own story, always focus on appealing to a strong emotion that a caveman could understand: fear, fight, or love. If a caveman can understand the emotional appeal of your story, you’ll reach a wider audience and create a stronger story.

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