What makes our stories pull on the reader’s mind and heart?
“Which do you mean?” and turning round, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”
In Pride and Prejudice, this is our first introduction to Mr. Darcy as the prideful man of higher social class. His words sear a lasting impression into the mind of the reader, and Elizabeth, our protagonist. These words plant a seed of contention between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. It is such a surprise to a new reader, then, when it is learned that the two are destined to love each other.
The story excels because it creates the ground for an arc from bad, that goes to worse, and then finally, when tension is at its highest, it goes to wonderful. The reader realizes that this man is actually perfectly suited to Elizabeth and the two are meant for each other. What was once loathing for a character has transitioned into love. Jane Austen takes you from one end of the spectrum to the other. Lesson: the further the contrast, the better the payoff.