What do Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, Fifty Shades of Grey, and Star Wars have in common?
They all created a sense of excited anticipation in their readers and viewers. And that anticipation led to long lines at bookstores and movie theaters, which resulted in big sales.
While it’s true that this craving in readers for more is a big part of what generates sales, there is, unfortunately, no magic formula to it. You can’t even claim that writing a good story will result in this phenomenon. Some brilliant stories have never seen fame, and some poorly written stories attracted millions of fans.
Comforting, isn’t it?
However, I would argue that there is one element that all such stories manage. They first create a desire in a reader, and then, by the end of the book, fulfill it. You don’t have to agree with this desire or even feel it yourself. If you don’t, you’re probably not a fan of that type of book. But there are common desires among humans. For example, most women want to be desired by a man who is powerful, capable, rich, or some combination of the above. It’s a basic instinct that harkens back to our caveman days. Stories like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey play off of this instinct. Conversely, stories like Star Wars play of our natural interest in discovery, exploration, and seeing a great evil eliminated.
Once these desires are tapped and fulfilled in readers and viewers, it creates a catharsis. That catharsis is satisfying. It’s like the kiss at the end of a wedding, walking across the stage and getting handed a diploma, or sinking your teeth into that delicious meal you slaved over all day to make just right for a special occasion. It’s the thing that makes all the hard work, all the frustration, suffering, and trial worth it. It’s the moment when everything seems to come together and release. Having a desire that it built up and played on, then finally fulfilled creates this same kind of feeling, and that results in a satisfactory experience for the audience.
If the catharsis is enjoyable enough, that reader will gush about the book to their friends and become excited when they hear a sequel is coming out. They might even line up at their favorite local bookstore to await a midnight release. Perhaps even in costume.
Unfortunately, no one can tell you how to accomplish this with certainty. If they could, editors, agents, and authors would be using it constantly, and to be honest, the reading public would quickly get burned out and desensitized to such books. However, there are a few tips:
- Write the best book you possibly can. Include solid plot structure, good character development, interesting world building, and all the essentials for a riveting story. (Yes, I know, some pretty horrendously written stories have captured the hearts of millions, but do you really want to be termed a hack while enjoying your success?)
- Dig into human desires and motivations. Think about human experiences that have touched millions in the past. Survival. Freedom. Righting injustice. Sexual desire. Hate. Love. Vengeance. The desire to know and understand. The question of what’s over the horizon or down that hole or beyond the stars. Explore these questions and desires in your writing. Don’t overdo it, but include them.
- Deepen your characters’ motivations and goals. If your characters don’t feel it, your readers won’t feel it. Simple as that.
- Hope for a ton of luck. Luck has just as much to do with success, if not more, than skill.
So, with that last in mind, good luck in spinning riveting stories that capture the hearts and desires of readers.