Nicholas Sparks: a deep dive into crafting emotional unforgettable stories

Have you seen anyone read a Nicholas Sparks book? You will see a whole range of emotions on their faces: from joy to tears, from surprise to satisfaction. He writes tragic love stories that people can’t put down. They feel a deep connection with his characters.

Sparks has written the Notebook, A Walk to Remember, and 21 other books. All of them became bestsellers. 11 of his books were converted into feature films! How is he so prolific?

In his own words, Sparks says: “I try to create modern day versions of the Greek tragedies.” But is it that simple? Because the stories he writes are not at all common to the Greek tragedies. The only common element is the emotions that you feel reading them.

So how does Nicholas Sparks evoke a whole range of emotions?

When Sparks gets an idea or a theme of the book, the first thing he does is sit to outline it. But unlike other authors who outline the story and develop the characters, he also works on the emotional tone. 

He works on the emotional journey he wants to take the reader on. His goal is to evoke a whole range of emotions so that by the time the reader finishes the book, they feel like they’ve lived a mini-life! Happy, sad, angry, confused, falling in love, heartbreak, the whole gamut has to be outlined before he begins to write. 

And even though his books have heartbreak in them, they are not melodramatic.

Being dramatic without being melodramatic

Here is his secret. He combines opposites. Every love story needs to have a tragedy. Every despair needs to have hope. 

By intertwining opposite emotions, he can write modern day Greek tragedies. He can make people cry but yet end with a satisfied feeling at the end of the book.

Sparks doesn’t merely intertwine opposite emotions however, he does so in a surprising way. He stacks the emotions. As he says: “Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it can. And just when you think it can’t get any better, it can.” 

This stacking of emotions makes his books unpredictable. It retains novelty and suspense. By building up a crescendo of emotions, he can then craft a satisfying release. 

This meticulous work on emotions is what makes his books intellectually engaging. People feel deeply connected to his stories.

Intertwine opposites. In surprising ways.

That’s the secret of the great taste makers. Take any classic: from the Great Gatsby to Breaking Bad. You will find intertwined opposites in them.

Focus on one word. Find its opposite. And intertwine both of them to create a classic hit.

Sam Panopoulos was a Greek immigrant who had moved to Canada. There he started a restaurant that served a typical diner menu. But he also owned a pizza oven. And so, he started offering pizzas to his diners – at a time when pizzas weren’t as famous in Canada.

One day, he took a ham pizza – and put canned pineapple slices on it. Because the canned pineapple was from Hawaii, he called it Hawaiian pizza. You may like it or hate it, but it is one of the most popular pizzas sold today.

The sweet pineapple intertwined with the salty cheese and ham works surprisingly well together. The contrast in flavour makes you talk about it and challenge others to taste it.

Contrast is fundamental

Our brains are wired to notice differences. It constantly compares and contrasts elements – that’s how it makes sense of the world. 

When we experience two contrasting things – especially in an unexpected context – it stimulates our cognitive and emotional processes. It creates a sense of surprise and novelty. It makes things more engaging. More memorable. 

Of course, too much contrast is bad. It can be jarring. It can overwhelm folks and disrupt the cognitive process instead of delighting it. It makes it harder to understand things.

Sparks deals with this through pacing. He intuitively knows when to slow down the story to deepen an emotion. And when to move swiftly to create tension. Pacing a story well allows him to make sure contrasting emotions don’t become overwhelming. Drama doesn’t become melodrama.

Action Summary:

  • Intertwine opposites to create a hit.
  • Combine two opposites. And do it in an unexpected way. The unexpected part creates delight. It’s what creates engagement and memorability.
  • Don’t overwhelm with contrast. Balance is necessary. Adding multiple fruit toppings to a pizza wouldn’t work as well as just adding pineapple.