Story Is A Drug
Making the reader want to know what happens next in a story is an excellent way to get them to turn the page and keep reading. But that’s not what hooks readers.
Curiosity will only provide part of the glue that makes readers stick with a story. The truth is even if the reader knows what happens next, if they’ve read it before, seen it before, heard spoilers, know the original version… they can still enjoy it.
But if you already know what happens in a story, why is it still worth reading?
You may have noticed when watching the coming attractions at the movies (or possibly online) that trailers give away a lot of the story. In fact they give away pretty much everything. The best gags, the coolest effects, the big twist. Why?
Movie people aren’t dumb, not when it comes to making money. They may not give a damn about you and your move-going experience, but they want your cash, so what is their rationale for stripping naked first, and then asking you if you want to pay for a lap dance?
The thing is, finding out what happens in a movie or a book is a very small part of storytelling.
How you feel about what happens is the important part.
When it comes to making money with movies, it’s getting people to see the movie more than once (sometimes five, six, seven times) that makes a movie a blockbuster.
Those people who go again and again, they know what happens. They know the twists and turns and that the best friend will betray the hero and what-have-you. It’s not the ‘finding out’ that people are going for.
What people respond to is the way they feel when the lovers finally kiss, or the timer on the bomb stops on one second, or the Karate Kid kicks that guy in the face. It’s the emotion that’s important, not the reveal. You know Rue’s going to die, but you still feel it every time Katniss gives the salute.
And like a rollercoaster, you may know what’s coming, you may have ridden this ride many times, but your stomach still does flip-flops. It’s a physical reaction — and so are emotions. And they can be repeated by the same trigger. Not always at the same intensity, but close enough to make it a powerful experience. You still get the hit.
Wanting to know what happens next is a technique. It’s a way of creating a cascading momentum that keeps you moving forward through a story. It’s what makes you automatically give the correct response to a knock-knock joke, even if you hate knock-knock jokes.
But the satisfaction of a good story isn’t from finding out what happens next, it’s from experiencing genuine emotion (even though it’s created artifically).
So in order to make your story as impactful on the reader as possible, keeping back information that you then reveal (it was his best friend who was the bad guy!) has limited use.
The emotions reaction (Oh, no, not the best friend!) is the important part. Finding a way to make that as visceral and deeply felt as possible for the reader is what will make the reader value the experience.
I’ll be looking at how to make scenes emotionally effective in Thursday’s post (I’m back to two posts a week now that the summer’s over).
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