Why do we like stories?
Honestly, why do we do anything? Why do we go to the movies, read books, get cars, have families, go skydiving, or write?
Think of your answers to the above. Pick one. Then ask yourself why again. And again. Eventually, you can trace every activity to a single desire. The thing we all want most.
A powerful emotional experience.
For example, why do we read fiction? Some do it to escape, some do it to see new worlds, to experience what it’s like to be in someone else’s thoughts. But, why do we read to escape? Because we want to go through a journey in a different world. Why do we want to go on a journey? To feel the thrill of it. To have excitement.
To have an emotional experience.
Rewarding Emotional Experiences
For my day job, I’m an Experience Architect. It’s hard to explain, but in summary, it is to trace that same path of why’s that leads to a rewarding emotional experience for a consumer, and help my clients meet it.
Now, note how I said powerful emotional experience. Not “positive”. Not even “fun” or “easy.” Though all of those are also paths to powerful emotional experiences. I write not because it is easy, but because it is rewarding. Athletes train because the achievement is satisfying. We all have different preferred paths.
Tragedies, comedies, dramas, these all use different methods to bring us those emotional experiences, but they are all viable.
Understanding your Audience
The key for you, is to understand what methods your audience prefers. This can be tricky, as asking readers what they like most about books they love won’t represent their buying behaviors. A huge part of my job is research, and people are terrible at predicting or reporting their behavior. You get some optimistic or otherwise biased view of themselves.
Beta readers can help with this, and someday doggone it I’m gonna get e-book analytics off the ground so I can analyze a reader’s behavior as they read. To see what they voraciously consume, what they drop, and what they throw across the room then pick back up again.
The Emotional Journey
Learn what sort of emotional journey are they looking for in a story. This isn’t the plot, nor the character arc (though they both contribute), but the reader’s emotions that come from reading. Map that journey, and learn, with time and practice, what your readers prefer.
Some people think reading fiction is time better spent in “reality.” When confronted with this, remember. Having powerful emotional experiences isn’t some selfish want, it is a need. A necessity. The pursuit of these feelings gives us hope, ambition, courage. Without this never-ending drive to feel, we would die out from apathy.
We are the slayers of apathy.