When Phantom Menace first came out Orson Card attacked it, concluding “This film is an embarrassment, and nothing Lucas does with the next two films can redeem this one.” I hadn’t liked it that much either (Jar Jar, oh my freaking heck…), but it sounded to me like he was being as snobbish as the lifi crowd he always criticized. So I emailed him and said so. He invited me to write an article for Hatrack explaining why Phantom Menace was such a good movie as compared to the original Star Wars.
Put up or shut up, eh.
Of course, it wasn’t as good. Not even close. But what kind of beef-brain would pass up an opportunity to discuss story with one of his favorite authors? So I began. Except I soon realized I couldn’t compare and judge the films except by the effects they created in me.
But what were those effects? And how were they created?
I started to think hard about the stories I loved and discovered seven emotional effects that showed up again and again. I hadn’t seen anything like what I was writing anywhere. The insights were stunning to me. In fact, I told my wife I felt like I was coming up with a totally original model of story. I wrote my essay and titled it “Story Effects & The Phantom Menace.”
Of course, my model of story wasn’t wholly original. As soon as I finished the essay, I realized that it was Dave Wolverton who had first suggested to me that I needed to know what stories do to me (their “draws”) if I was going to be successful writing stories. And I saw that many authors talked about the ideas, except it was true that none really seemed to take it head on.
So that’s how I got my first insights into what stories do. And my list of emotional effects hasn’t changed much since then, although my understanding of how they’re generated has.
My Main Draws
Here’s the list of emotions my favorite stories generate in me. I’m betting yours overlap with mine. Of course, there are other effects, but these are the ones that are my main draws.
- Sympathy, rooting, the justice equation (STORY)
- Suspense, hope, worry, anxiety, stress dread, horror (STORY)
- Curiosity, surprise, puzzlement, mystery, intrigue (STORY)
- Surprise, novelty, unpredictability (STORY)
- Wonder, wow, spectacle, awe
- Wanna, wish-fulfillment, envy, attraction, adventure
- Humor, smile, chuckle, laugh
- Insight, aha! factoids, new ideas, how to do something, the right way to act
I also looked at what I liked to feel when I finished. I call these ultimate effects:
- Consolation, triumph, joy, relief, comfort
Tragedy is okay for me once in a while. For someone else they may seek that more often. Finally, I looked at it by story part:
- Intriguing & delightful characters
- Interesting settings
- Compelling problems and plots
Please note that suspense and curiosity are the heart of story. But more on that later. Right now it’s enough to simply know that we have to be aware of our objectives. We have to be in tune with our feelings. Because it is by feeling that a story stands or falls.