Writing emotional stories readers care about is a challenge.

It’s also the most rewarding thing any writer can achieve.

  • When you make readers feel what your protagonist feels.
  • When you change your readers by taking them on a spiritually enriching story.
  • When you make your readers cry, laugh, scream, or punch their bedroom wall.
  • That’s when you know you have succeeded as a writer.

Here are the top 6 tips for writing emotional stories readers care about. Read my 39 storytelling tips and techniques for more.



6 Ways To Write Emotional Stories Readers Care About

1: If you really want readers to engage, use forgiveness and self sacrifice

The two most important character strengths are self sacrifice and forgiveness. The obvious example of Jesus Christ comes to mind here, with his sacrifice and forgiveness. But also many contemporary mainstream characters exhibit those qualities too.

Katniss Everdeen, for example, sacrifices herself to save her sister from The Hunger Games. Luke Skywalker forgives his father and is willing to sacrifice himself to stick to his morals at the end of Return Of The Jedi when he throws his lightsaber away. Samwise Gamgee is willing to sacrifice himself to save Frodo. And so on.

Self sacrifice and forgiveness resonate with people more than any other character strengths. If you want your characters to sizzle, make them forgiving and self sacrificial. Consider this when devising your plot.



2: Fill your novel with inherent conflict

Good novel writing means writing high conflict drama.

 A novel without conflict is like a sports match played by only one side. No one would watch. For a story to be good it absolutely must have conflict, and that conflict should come from a variety of factors, the first of which is environmental.

Would you set a story in your kitchen? Probably not, because your kitchen is probably quite safe (hopefully). There’s no danger in your kitchen. There’s no conflict. But would you set a story in a kitchen in which the head chef, who always carries around his chopping knife, is actually a murderer? Yes, because there’s inherent danger in the environment.

Wherever your novel is set, there must be a level of conflict and danger. That could be emotional danger (a home with an abusive parent, for instance). It could be the obvious war battlefield and its inherent danger. It could be the courtroom where a young up-start prosecutor will make or break his career. It could be Super Mario Land, where every hole and every character could potentially kill Mario. But it must be an environment with some recognisable sense of conflict and danger.

So, how to write a good story: include conflict in the environment.


3: Minor characters should be combined into one stronger character

When creating ensemble casts, merge weak characters into one stronger character.

Think about all the relationships you have in your life. You’ve got your friends, but simply calling them “friends” probably doesn’t do them justice. Are they life-long friends? Are they colleague-friends? Maybe they’re friends you used to date. Relationships in real life are complex and so should fictional relationships be.

One of the best ways to achieve this is by combining two characters. So you have a doctor character in your story. And you also have another minor character the protagonist used to screw. Combine them. A “doctor the protagonist used to screw” is much more intriguing than “a doctor” and  “Someone the protagonist used to screw”.

So, how to write a good story: Combine minor characters into one strong character.



4: Write A Story Full Of Conflict:

There is no doubt that conflict is the single most important element of any story in any genre. Man VS nature. Man VS beast. Man VS supervillain. Man VS himself. It goes on. Conflict is everything. Without it a story is worthless.

Great fictional conflict contains four vital ingredients. Let’s take a look:


5: Conflict Must Engage The Reader’s Sympathies.

Conflict absolutely must engage the reader / viewer / players sympathies, because if the reader can’t get behind the protagonist all is for nothing.

A man going to war just because he likes to kill people is not a good protagonist. A man who had retired from the army but has rejoined in order to save his brother, who has been captured by terrorists. Now that is a better character.

There must be a reason why the character is engaged in conflict and that reason must engage the reader’s sympathies.


6.  Write A Story With Moral And Poetical And Philosophical Purpose

In other words, there must be some deeper meaning to the conflict. It has to represent something.

In Avatar, for instance, the conflict is between those humans who want to protect Pandora, those who want to destroy it for profit, and the Navi—the aliens who inhabit the land and live in peace with it. The conflict, of course, has fighting. But the fighting is just the surface. Beneath that surface is a message about whether man has the right to destroy nature for profit (the answer is no).

Conflict must represent more than two swords clashing and some gunshots. It has to have a meaning that people can feel passionately about.



Paul Harrison

Paul M Harrison is an entertainment journalist, novelist, and blogger, and a specialist in the theory of storytelling. Paul Harrison can be contacted via his personal website or on Twitter or Facebook.


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