There are two sides of a story, but they’ll usually fall toward one side or another, some more strongly than others. On one side are stories with a stronger intellectual pull, and on the other, stories with a stronger an emotional pull.
Different genres generally lean toward one of these categories, but the best stories, no matter their genre, do both.
Take Hard Science Fiction for example. Hard SF is likely to feature complex science and ‘big ideas’, and would therefore be more likely to draw readers looking for a high concept, original story.
Murder Mystery readers would fall into the same category, but for different reasons; there’s a mystery to be solved and that’s what works for them. Its the intellectual pull that draws them in.
On the other side of the fence are the readers looking for emotional content. The obvious example is the Romance novel.
Romance readers already know how the story’s going to end, yet romances sell better than anything else.
Why? Its the emotional rollercoaster. Fantasy readers would also sit here – it’s a hero they want, and it’s a hero they get. Usually.
For readers looking for emotional content, how it happens is more important than what happens. You can almost be certain the ‘dark lord’ is going to lose in the end or the romance will work out.
So how do you make this work for you?
Do both. Throw in a high concept and blend it with emotional content.
Don’t believe me? Here’s some examples:
Harry Potter – Orphan Boy must defeat Dark Lord – standard fantasy tropes. Throw in a mystery or three, exceptionally clever plotting, and then make the boy the object of almost everyone’s ire – whalah! Bestselling series.
How about Dune? Hard SF revolving around the ecology of the planet Dune and the byproduct of giant sand worms which more or less grant supernatural powers. Throw in a couple of romances and a hero that must rise up and defeat an empire – whalah! One of the biggest-selling SF novels of all time.
Titanic (the James Cameron movie). A ship hits an iceberg and sinks. Its inevitable – history. A documentary would just show the facts – a tragedy. However, throw in a romance between two starcrossed lovers, book-end it with a search for treasure and show it from a survivor’s POV, and Shakespere couldn’t do much better.
How about The Hunger Games? Twenty-four kids from a distopian society get thrown into an arena to fight to the death – as high-concept as it gets. However, give them something to fight for – something even bigger than their lives – and suddenly you’ve got a story everyone wants to read. It’s about them, but it’s bigger. Its a love story. Its a story about defying the unjust authorities.
The Girl Who Played With Fire. It could easily be seen as a standard mystery, but it’s not. There’s something of a romance between the two protagonists, but that’s just part of it. They also have their own stories – one is unfairly put in goal while the other gets physically and emotionally abused -and suddenly you’ve got a story thats bigger than all the parts put together.
So how do you use this to your advantage?
Simple. Borrow from both sides of the equation. Make your story both emotionally and intellectually stimulating.
Read more on the craft of writing.