Occasionally I set out to write a certain kind of story--a horror story for Halloween, an inspirational feel-good story for Christmas or Valentine's Day--one where I'm interested, above all, in creating a certain kind of emotional response in my readers.
I've been thinking and writing about short story structure lately so, after I read Sophie King's chapter, How To Write Feel-Good Stories or Tug-At-The-Heart Tales, I thought I'd do a post on this.
1. Getting the Idea
Think about the state you are attempting to create in the reader at the end of the story. To help fix this in your mind think of either a real life situation that made you feel good about life in general or think about a movie which made you feel this way.
It's corny, but for me that movie is It's A Wonderful Life (1946) with James Stewart. If I was going to write a feel-good story I would watch that movie again and pay special attention to how the movie accomplished this effect.
You could write a feel-good story about anything but a few topics seem tailor made to bring out the emotions.
- Valentine's Day
- The big game
- Reuniting with a loved one
- Finding Mr. or Ms. Right
3. Conflict: There Are Two Sides To Every Coin
Often the conflict required by a feel-good story is contained in the premise. Here are two examples of what I mean by this.
Christmas is heart-warming because it's a time for friends and family to renew their friendships, to feel that they are a part of something larger than oneself.
The flip-side of camaraderie, of community, can either be the character's beginning state or what she will face (or fear she will face) if she fails the guest.
b) Valentine's Day
Valentine's Day presents the hope of finding 'The One', the person one fits with, like a key in a lock. The one person, in all the world, who can make like complete.
The flip side of this is the fear that the protagonist has (let's call her Jane) that there is no one for her. Or, more concretely, that when she goes out on a date she'll either meet a creep or, what's worse, someone she thinks could be her special someone but who really just wants to use her for their own ends.
For instance, Jane could met two men, Adam and Darren. One of them, Darren, wants to use Jane for his own ends and he bends over backward to charm her, saying what he thinks she wants him to say regardless whether he means it.
At first Jane can't see through see Darren is being fake. The man who genuinely likes her--Adam--bungles things and makes mistakes.
At the 2/3 point--the All Is Lost or Major Setback plot point--have Darren propose marriage. The reader should know by this time that Darren is the wrong guy. Have Jane accept. At the climax of the story--the 3/4 point--Jane recognizes her mistake and chooses Adam (Mr. Right). Jane and Adam live happily ever after.
4. Make It Universal
Whatever topic you choose to base your story on, make sure the emotions are based on life experiences most people can relate to. Events which mark significant life experiences like a graduation, a wedding, or holidays like Christmas or Valentine's Day. The possibilities are endless.
5. The Test: Is The Mood Right?
When I write a horror story if I'm not even a little bit scared then I know I need to step the tension/conflict up a notch or three. It's the same with feel-good stories. If I don't feel at least a little bit warm and cozy thinking about the ending then I need to ratchet up the conflict. Perhaps this means adjusting the stakes (what the protagonist will win and what they'll lose if they fail), perhaps it means adjusting the characters, making the antagonist a bit more callous, making the good guy or gal just a bit more heroic.
Tomorrow I'll talk more about short stories and their structure.
Have you ever written a feel-good story? Was it a novel or a short story? Did you succeed in eliciting emotion in your readers? If you had it to do over again would you do anything differently?
Other articles you might like:- How To Write Short Stories
- Fate Core And The Creation Of Magical Worlds
- Roleplaying Games, Writing, And The Creation Of Magical Systems
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