5 Ways to Infuse Your Story with Gripping Emotion (Part 3): Pour on The Pain

CK Author's Pic 2012

Bestselling authors apply a little known quirk of human nature that allows them to “break out of” the masses of other books in their genre. With or without realizing it, this paradox draws readers to these stories in frenzied droves.

Simply put, the paradox is that while most readers proactively avoid pain in real life, they crave copious amounts of pain in their fiction. Human nature is to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Yet, if you consider the most beloved books that have stood the test of time, that move readers across the nebulous lines of culture, religion and age (among others), you are likely to discover a single – perhaps surprising – commonality.

Fiction is at its most captivating when characters are most suffering.

Want to write bestseller fiction? Create captivating, sympathetic characters that readers fall in love with and then brutalize those characters. I call this strategy: Pour on the Pain.

Hurt, distress, unsettle, badger, stress, disable, cripple, impair, damage, even torture and kill your characters. The pain can be mental, emotional, spiritual and physical. The pain can be a broken leg or broken heart.

The more you hurt your characters, the more readers will love your story. Go figure.

Fiction is not a career for the weak. Fiction, the kind that transcends mere entertainment and reaches toward enlightenment, requires both compassion and cruelty. This writing business is a beautiful mess.

In the next post, we’ll look at a few specific ways bestselling authors Pour on the Pain. If you haven’t already, check out the previous posts in this series on gripping emotion. I think you’ll be delighted with the information.

What are your favorite stories? How does the author(s) pour on the pain? 


Christopher Kokoski is a speaker, trainer and author of Wicker Hollow and the Past Lives novel series.

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