Sometimes I think writers of fiction, of scripts and stories of all sorts, are simply bartenders making pleasing cocktails. But they’re cocktails made of hormones; “love hormones”, fight-and-flight hormones; they’re made of adrenaline, oxytocin, and their variations; of hormones we haven’t even identified yet. There is no doubt that a popular or at least effective story spurs small and large jets of adrenaline; of endorphins, testosterone, estrogen and progesterone. The reader looks for that effect. If it’s not there they say it “doesn’t do anything for me”. I really do think writers are purveyors of precise cerebral and glandular stimulation. Some writers may specialize in a particular mix of hormones–a romantic suspense writer mixes some form of oxytocin with adrenocorticotropic hormone. I know: this kind of reductionism–a horrifying thought.
But then I remember that the best stories also mean something; that they’re parables of morality, or self-knowledge, or empathy or righteous anger or existential dilemma. They’re poetic. And the hormonal waves are the propellants for those parables.
Some stories don’t have much poetry–the sparest horror movies perhaps–but the better ones are so well crafted, even artfully crafted, we appreciate them on that level. So I take a deep breath, and mix another cocktail, and hope for a tip.