David Farland is not only a bestselling author, he has also mentored many bestselling authors such as James Dashner (The Maze Runner series) and Stephenie Meyer (Twilight Series). So when I heard that he’d be teaching a class for this year’s Indie Recon, I knew I had to watch. Here are some of the things that I learned from him:
Farland noted that all big blockbuster stories have three things in common.
- They all take you to another time and place. The average person wants to get away from his humdrum life and go somewhere cool. Take people to a place that they see as sexy. For example, Tahiti or Paris, France are sexy. Boise, Idaho is not.
What about dystopian stories? Why would anybody see an ugly, ravaged world as sexy? Some people are adrenaline junkies. A dark world that tests the protagonist’s strength or ability would be sexy to them.
- They all know their target audience — and then broaden their reach. Create your protagonist to appeal to your target audience. For example, if you are writing Young Adult fiction for women, you should have a 16-year-old female protagonist.
Once you have your protagonist, look at your full cast of characters. This is where you have the opportunity to broaden your reach. Add other characters, old and young, male and female, to appeal to a wider audience.
- They all have a strong emotional appeal. You want your story to score high on the emotional Richter scale. As a judge for writing contests, Farland says that the story that makes the readers cry the most wins. But what if you write horror? Then, the story that scares you the most wins. For comedy, aim for the most laughs; for a thriller, make it the most heart-stopping.
OK, let’s take a look at a huge blockbuster story, Harry Potter, and see how well it utilizes Farland’s three suggestions.
Does it transport you to a sexy setting? Heck yeah! Many of us are still waiting for our acceptance letter to Hogwarts.
Does it appeal to a wide audience? Yes. The first character J.K. Rowling introduces us to is Dumbldore, an old man. Then we see McGonagal, an older woman. Next, Hagrid arrives with the baby, Harry Potter. Once at Hogwarts, Harry’s friends are boys and girls from many different cultures. There are also many adult teachers who play an influential role in Harry’s life.
Does it have a strong emotional appeal? Consistently yes. Rowling begins by creating sympathy for her unlikely hero, a mistreated orphan. She adds adventure and romance. We feel fear when Harry’s life is threatened, and we’re saddened when he loses people who are close to him. And seriously, the scene with Snape? Masterful. The story that makes you cry the most wins.
What is your favorite story (book or movie)? Did it have the three things listed above?