The New Yorker recently published an article explaining the fundamentals of viral content, titled “The Six Things that Make Stories Go Viral Will Amaze, and Maybe Infuriate, You.” Researchers continue to study the fascinating question of what psychological factors cause so many people to share content on a constant basis, affecting our daily lives and how we communicate to one another within the broader context of our lives. While the New Yorker article focuses exclusively on digital content, the findings have a direct bearing on what makes a successful screenplay, offering guidance for script writers looking to advance their opportunities to sell their scripts. The article’s fundamental underpinnings are not limited to the context of digital content. The factors at play also can also be categorically applied to the screenwriting craft.
We share when we find something interesting, and we want to share with our networks to either keep them informed or to help build our own social currency, which is a measure our interpersonal relationships with one another. However, it’s what drives our interest that is key in understanding why some content gets shared and passed around between social circles, while plenty does not.
2. Ethos, Pathos and Logos (Ethics, Emotions and Logic)
In the New Yorker article, the author points to Aristotle’s understanding of the three major rhetorical devices that influence behavior: ethos, pathos and logos. Ethos relates to ethics, pathos to emotional appeal, and logos to logic. Films that lack any one of these things are less likely to attract a large following, because factors such as credibility, relatability and logical thinking are core foundations of what constitutes a good story. And, as screenwriters know, a great story is the essence of a great film. In creating a compelling script, these three factors serve as a general reminder and measure against which to gauge effectiveness.
3. Appeal: Positivity and Arousal
The New Yorker article also notes how positivity and arousal are inextricably linked to peoples’ sharing behaviors. Now, there are numerous downbeat films that have had significant success, but for many people, the emotional appeal of a hero’s journey is what captures their attention — and their hearts. A hero that learns nothing gives audiences the sense that there isn’t a payoff for the viewer’s emotional investment.
4. Quality of Story
“A final predictor of success is the quality of the story itself,” reports the New Yorker, going on to note that the best stories will come up on top. This insistence on a high-quality story can be of tremendous benefit to the screenwriter. Details matter, but in the end, if the story is interesting, relatable and important in the overall narrative of our broader lives, this is what will attract readers, studios and success.
Of course, as we all know, there is no magic formula to creating a great script. At its core, it requires knowledge of what drives human emotion, paired with the understanding of how to tell a story that leaves an impression on the viewer. Delving into the screenwriting process with a high-quality story — with significant themes and acute specificity — is a key factor in creating a lasting impact on readers and viewers, and make them want to share it with their friends.
Have you noticed what kind of content you tend to share on social media? What are characteristics of movies which you tell friends and family they simple must see? Sound off on the comments here – or tweet to us on Twitter.
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