Monday, September 24, 2012

Underlying Hope – A Key to Lasting Commercial Success

Underlying Hope – A Key to Lasting Commercial Success

As an observer of entertainment, I’m always interested in why some books or shows become classics and some do not – particularly if they started out with a similar initial playing field (hype or marketing.) For example, (recently) why did “The Avengers” do so much better than “John Carter?” Why did the first “Matrix” movie do so well and the others not so well? In fact, why do most sequels stink? For a long time I thought it was because the original movie told a wonderful or interesting story and the sequel didn’t – the first Matrix told a great story and the second Matrix was all about the special effects. This happens all the time – I think the powers pick up on the wrong reason for the original movie’s/books success.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think a key to success is the creation of an engaging story, but not for the reasons I previously believed. For example, consider the Star War or Raiders movies – they are often used to illustrate the kinds of story components elaborated in the book “The Hero’s Journey.” Using these components help a story make sense and “speak to the audience.”  I agree to some extent, but this blog is going to add another element to those components that I think is not usually in the list – underlying hope. When you look at many examples of entertainment that have stood the test of time –The Lord of The Rings (Hobbit), C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time, Gone with the Wind, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Casablanca, To Kill a Mockingbird (all that are in the 50 best selling fiction stories or movies of all time – they have stood the test of time and are top commercial successes. Is there something about them that makes the so special? I think it is that they all contain an underlying component of hope. That is, they are set in a world where there is an understanding with the audience that there is an ultimate good – that there are some values, people, God, or morality that is solid and dependable. And even though times may be tough and unfair for some, there is still an ultimate good that will overcome the bad. Often there are good people who, although flawed, we can count on to come through for us in the end. They are the heroes. Compare that to many other stories where the good guy (the preacher, the policeman, the judge, the congressman, the trusted friend, turn out to be the bad guys and the bad guys turn out to be the good guys. These shape shifter characters are good for drama. They give a story surprise and unpredictability. Using such characters works well in some stories. But what if there is no ultimate good person? What if there are no constant morals? What if there is no hope of salvation/redemption? What if all of life is flawed? In this case the story eats away at our innate human desire for this world to make some sense. And without that, the story (although it may bring temporal entertainment) does not satisfy and we don’t care to visit that world again and again. It stands no chance at long life. I will not become a classic.

So there you have it – an untested and partially thought out observation about story-telling. Stories with an underlying hope of a world that is ultimately good and fair speak to the human audience at a deeper and longer lasting level than those whose world is an ambiguous quagmire.

May your day be full of good words.

For information on my latest story "Takeover" please go to This short story, Takeover: A Writer’s Nightmare, is a romp through the messed-up brain of a creative writer that takes you on a bumpy joy ride with a twisted ending.

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