The Sneaky Psychological Trick to Create Instant Bestsellers


While it may seem odd, bestselling authors are keen social scientists with advanced understandings of human behavior.  

Knowingly or not, they ply readers with ideas, themes, images (cover art), descriptions, actions and characters (and more) that activate a reader’s highest hopes and deepest fears.

Bestsellers as scientist? Yes, (at least social scientists!) and many of them may not even know it, or at least may not think of themselves in this way. No matter. 

One of the key traits of bestselling authors is a deft brilliance about human behavior. Namely, what drives us — dreams (hopes) and fears.

Consider some of the bestsellers over the last century — Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games, Lone Survivor, Gone Girl, Divergent…and the list goes on.

These books vary wildly in theme, genre, scope and style. 

However, a connecting element that runs through them all (and I might argue runs through each and every bestseller – fiction or nonfiction) is that the story taps into basic human hopes and fears.

How to Tap Into Universal Hopes and Fears

When you start thinking about it, this concept begins to make perfect sense. Our deepest, most primal motivations capture attention and interest. 

Human beings are hardwired to focus intently on that which promises safety (pain avoidance) or pleasure. The more you grasp the significance of this hidden element of bestsellers, the more accessible the same path becomes for you and your stories.

So, how do you tap into this rich source of bestsellers? Consider following these guidelines…and use the Wide-Lens Method:

Wide-Lens Method of Bestselling Authors

  • Wide-Lens Method: Use this method to gauge the emotional themes playing out in the world. Step back and take a big picture view of what is happening globally. Scan the top news stories for the last few months. Look for patterns — not necessarily of topics, but of emotions. (caveat: realize that news stories and patterns change rapidly, so the bigger your lens, the better. Nothing is fool proof, but this is an excellent way to gauge the national or global emotional tone)
  • Ask yourself, “What is the core emotional need inherent in this pattern?” Perhaps you see lots of stories about child abductions or international war or famine or weather-related catastrophes. Dig deeper. Get curious. Is the fear being taken? Being blow away? Losing loved ones? Not having enough food? A terrorist attack?
  • Drill down to the core emotional details. Keep narrowing until you hit the emotional “jackpot”. You’ll probably feel it in your gut because, after all, you are in the world, too! (you are, aren’t you?!) Keep asking questions, searching for patterns. Ask, “What connects these stories?” and “What else might connect them?” and further, “What is the core emotional need?” Brainstorm different ideas and theories. There is no wrong answer, only an answer that “feels” right to you.
  • Contrast the Need: What is the opposite emotion of the one you discovered? Is it hope of freedom, safety from serial killers,  true love? Sometimes contrasting the emotion brings it into sharper focus. Remember, bestsellers spawn from fear and desire, hate and love, war and peace.
  • Personalize the Pain (or Peace): While honing in on global fears and desires is helpful, only internalizing and personalizing the emotion will translate those universal emotions into riveting storytelling. The world is not the writer — you are! How does the emotion affect you? Do you care enough to explore that fear for months or years through a cast of characters? Does the emotion move you, even scare you a little? If it hits a little too close to home, you might be close to a bestseller. 
  • That last point bears repeating: when you strike a personal nerve, you often strike storytelling gold.

     Unforgettable stories are written by fearless wordsmiths who take readers below the surface into a very personal (and often painful) self-exploration of fears, flaws, weakness, tragedies and traumas.

    Enjoy this post? Follow this blog for more tips just like this one…Thanks! CK


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

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    Posted in screenwriting, writer, Writing

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