Fiction, whether books or movies, trades in human emotions, which means delivering carefully packaged emotional experiences. Books and movies are emotion generators.
When was the last time you saw a movie or book ad that said, “well-structured, great plot points, fresh dialogue?” No. What you see is, “Grabs from the first page to last, funny, gritty, intense, haunting, gripping, hugely satisfying.” The focus is all about emotions, because that’s what the reader/audience craves. Emotion is what sells; it’s what keeps readers coming back for more.
Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense and audience manipulation, once said, “We’re not making a movie; we’re making an organ, like in a church. We press this chord and the audience laughs. We press that chord, and they gasp. We press these notes and they chuckle.
Aspiring writers are constantly told to hone their craft. But what does that mean? Craft is the ability to make things happen on the page. Specifically, it’s the technical ability to control language to create an intentional emotion or image in the reader’s mind, hold his attention, and deliver a rewarding experience. Craft is about the ability to connect with your reader.
Your job is to seduce the reader, to make them keep turning pages to see what happens next, to captivate them by drawing them into the world you’ve created. You want them to forget they're reading words on the page, and feel something. In order to do that, you have to find the most exciting and emotionally involving way to tell your story well.
Each page needs to be crafted to make the reader feel tension anxiety, laughter, anticipation, grief or terror, and to manage those visceral feelings into a satisfying experience by the last page.
For some readers, you have thirty pages to hook them. For many it’s ten pages. But the reality is that the first page, and the next, and the next must catch the reader’s attention and hold it. The way to do that is to manipulate the reader’s feelings on each page, which is quite different from manipulating your character’s feelings. Your character on the page may be laughing his ass off, yet you make choose to have the reader crying from anguish.
So on each and every page you write, it’s important to know what emotions your characters are feeling at that moment, but more important that you understand what emotions you are creating in the reader. Make them laugh, make them cry, make them sigh, but make the feel something.
Publishers buy and sell emotion. Therefore, if you want to become a successful novelist or screenwriter you must create emotional experiences in your work.