I see this a lot in my own work, the stuff that ‘works’ is often stories where I was trying to get the reader to feel something. Stories without an emotional trigger of some sort seem to come off as bland or unmemorable, at least mine do. Stories where I wanted the reader to laugh or cry tend to hit home the hardest.
Which emotion you want to evoke is up to you, the writer. Laughter or pride (for the reader or for the protagonist) is something I want to aim for. Wonder is also good, and also harder. But there are times for sadness or horror, catharsis can be healthy to get those feelings out of our system. Though it can be tough. A well-written story will have those emotions linger in the reader, so I’d honestly try to avoid wistfulness or melancholy in stories you’re writing for someone else.
How do we do that? Well, keeping in mind this is all my bright idea and not of anyone really, really skilled at this, I think you the writer have to feel it first. Readers, I think, can spot it when we’re going through the motions*. So what you right needs to make you happy or laugh or nostalgic or even aroused. If you’re writing a love scene and you don’t need a trip to the shower afterwards, scrap it and try again. If the fight scene doesn’t get your heart pumping, put it down, summon up the blood and disguise fair nature with hard-favored rage.
Once you’re feeling it, write it. Stay in that emotional state as long as you can. Write fast, let it flow. You can go back and correct mistakes in verb tense and spelling later. You want to get the emotion of the scene down first because that spirit comes from the inside where we don’t think about usage who vs whom. If you can get the emotions down, the rest can be fiddled with by your logical side.
Next, vary your scenes. Don’t put action scene after action scene. Let your reader recover, channel their emotions into something different, take them on a ride. Rollercoasters are never all downhill. Anticipation is part of the fun and it’s a great way to hook a reader to signal a change in mood just as you end a chapter. Break up horror with comedy, if you can, laughter is louder after a scare…thought that’s a tough rope to follow. End action with a melancholy coda, dealing with the aftermath of adrenaline and bloodshed…though I advise against ending a story that way, just my two cents.
End the story in a way that is satisfying emotionally. Make them want to read about that character again or at the very least, to read more of your work. That’s why I suggest ending ‘up’. One of the feedback I got most often in the past year on my problem stories seem to have that at its core, the ending didn’t satisfy. People like happy endings, if they’re earned. They WANT to root for your protagonists, let them. People are afraid of cliché or tropes but they exist for a reason. They meet a need in us. We want to believe there is justice in the end, that journeys end in lovers meeting, that sacrifice buys something, that evil can be vanquished by courage, that the good guys win. Remember, we’re telling stories, dreaming dreams. Don’t write real life, write better than life.
So before you start writing, take a moment while the stew is simmering in your head and think about what emotional seasoning you want to add. Because that’s what’s going to linger on after your reader consumes your story. Now if you’ll excuse me, I seem to be hungry for some reason.
*Though they can’t seem to spot which sections came easily and which ones you sweated blood over. Which is odd.