Another wonderful post from David Farland’s Daily Kick in the Pants newsletter. If you would like to receive his daily newsletter go to his website and create an account: http://www.davidfarland.net/members/. Or you can go to the “writing tips” section of his website to find them.
Some stories are designed to make you cry. Particularly at the holiday season, you may find yourself watching some of Hollywood classics. I’ve always been fond of “A Christmas Carol,” and have seen dozens of versions of it in plays, in books, and on screen. I was watching “Miracle on 34th Street” with my wife the other day, and it struck me that there are a lot of similarities between various heart-warming tales.
Here are just a few things that you might consider.
1) Focus on characters. You protagonists in these tales normally take a lot of focus. Very often, we learn about the character as a youth—as in “Forrest Gump” or “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Little House on the Prairie.” There’s a reason that mythic characters often have an interesting beginning. It encourages children to become engaged in the tale as well as adults.
2) Put your characters in pain. Real people have handicaps, foibles, weaknesses, nasty bosses, and bad days. These help the audience sympathize with the character.
3) Give your characters “special powers.” Scrooge may have been a rotten person, but his ability to pinch a penny until it screamed was almost praiseworthy. There’s a little Scrooge in all of us. Forrest Gump was a borderline idiot, but his positive attitude was remarkable. By making your character remarkable in some way, you make the character memorable.
Remember that a person who cares tremendously is much more likable than one who is not. Most often, likable people show great compassion.
4) Let your characters grow up. If you read a story or watch a movie that is heartwarming, you’ll note that a lot of small “vignettes” often appear, bits that show the character battling challenging situations and showing their resiliency. In “Miracle on 34th Street” I spotted several of these vignettes that weren’t even linked to the overall story arc. They existed primarily to help the reader bond emotionally to the protagonist. In the same way, in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” we get so lost in the growth of the protagonist that by the time that we’re reminded that he’s in a crisis, perhaps more than half the movie has passed. It’s not enough to just have the character overcoming challenges. In a real feel-good story, we often see a pattern where every major character grows up emotionally in some way. Look at movies like “Orange County,” “As Good as it Gets,” or “Anne of Green Gables,” and you’ll soon see the pattern.
5) Make your audience cry. Many years ago, a writer won the huge Reader’s Digest short story writing competition two years in a row. He said that his theory was that “The story that makes you cry the most, wins.” The same is true with feel-good books and movies. Your goal isn’t to make the reader feel, it’s to make the reader feel deeply. So give it your best.
Books and movies that make you feel good are perennial bestsellers. Every writer would be wise to learn to master the craft of telling heart-warming tales—even if you’re more interested in writing in other genres.