“Call me Ishmael.”
It is critically acclaimed the best opening line in the English language. Strangely hypnotic, isn’t it? Although Moby Dick is not necessarily fun to read, those three words capture you in a heartbeat.
To understand, you must imagine something for me (I don’t expect you to do it with your eyes closed, of course):
A stranger walks up to you in the middle of the store: “Hi. It was a dark and stormy night.”
When you read, the author is speaking to you, and vice-versa. And so, in order to keep you interested, he needs to say something that captures their attention, just as a hypnotist does when he speaks face-to-face.
Hypnosis is the art of using certain words or phrases to prompt thoughts or emotions within your client/victim (reader). What do you do when a stranger walks up to you and introduces himself? You instantly give him your undivided attention. That’s how you are conditioned to respond.
While it is unique, introducing yourself by saying “It was a dark and stormy night” doesn’t make you interesting. It’s just revolting. That’s how your readers are conditioned to respond to cliché.
At the same time, saying “My name is Howard” achieves little more. Anyone can say that. At least, anyone who’s name is “Howard.”
This cheap introduction does, however, make the reader pay attention, as you have just introduced yourself. And that is the first step.
Now imagine a strange walking up to you and extending his arm to you, “Call me Ishmael.” It has a different ring to it, doesn’t it? Somehow, it’s more interesting when someone introduces himself that way. I’ll leave it to you to hypothesize why.
Every Hypnotist/Author must be conversational. Hitler, as evil as he was, knew ho to talk. He almost literally hypnotized millions of people. He was trained by a specialist to learn all those hand gestures and vocal inflections that made people know who was boss.
“Conversational Hypnosis” requires experience in three things:
- Body Language
- Speaking effectively
- Listening effectively
While we do not have the luxury of using body language liberally as a tool in our arsenal, it may be used in another, unexpected way. I will get to that later.
Even without body language, the other two tools are more than adequate if used well. If you want to hypnotize your reader, put them in your grasp, make them hang on your every word, you must develop Rapport.
“Rapport is a positive relationship between two individuals based on trust and understanding.” First, you start by saying “Hello,” or “Call me Howard.”
In order to learn effective speaking, you ask the experts, you go to college, you read, read, read. Here on RL, you are learning how to speak well, how to use words in ways that will be interesting and illustrative.
Unfortunately, it’s the only thing that most writers bother learning. With practice, it is enough. But it is not optimal.
So how DO you listen to your reader?
Allow me to take you again to the inner eye: imagine, if you will, two men conversing. You watch them and realize that the other man is so enthralled in the other man’s tail that he doesn’t dare open his mouth. He thinks and he asks questions, but never out loud; the speaker is anticipating the silent man’s thoughts.
In order to achieve this, you must do the following:
- Never interrupt: What makes a dream intereting? Nothing impedes the mind and the dreamer is allowed to run rampant. Readers, like characters, have trains of thought that must be paid close attention to. Do not interrupt it with trivia. Follow it, listen to and respond to it.
- Eliminate distractions: Fancy word-use, challenging metaphors, unusual words and the like are bumps in the road. Only use the unexpected as a plot element or a teaching device.
- Maintain Eye contact: you promise the reader things as you begin your story. Fulfill these promises and never go off on an unsatisfactory tangent. If you change the subject, make sure that the new topic is relevant, but more interesting than the original.
- Show interest in the reader: Allow the reader to think. Let the story follow the thoughts that will inevitably run through the reader's mind, as though you are communing with him/her metaphysically.
You see a long paragraph coming up. The writer is basically saying “Here comes a monologue.”
The next time you go to the library, trying glancing through the pages of a few novels. I’m certain that you have already done this and judged how good the book is by the shape and size of the paragraphs.
People do this regularly: in the first 2 seconds, a stranger is going to decide about 90% of their overall opinion of you. This is due to body language.
Want to impress your reader? Use good body language. Promise someone who’s not going to bore them. There are patterns and shapes within paragraphs that are aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Study them. Find which one looks best to you, because your most loyal readers are likely the same.
- Don't get caught up in pleasing them: wallowing controversial materials or preaching to the choir with shun your reader. Let them hear what they want to her, but surprise them with what they don't know.
- Filtering: When speaking with someone, some people only hear some of what the other person says, the things that interest them. This is called filtering. You can accidentally do this by paying attention only to what makes the story move in the direction YOU want it to move in. Be careful; you may be orphaning or abandoning the train of thought the reader was on just moments before. You don't want them left behind.
Like Hypnosis, writing is an attempt to steal the reader’s mind. Stephanie Myers managed it with Twilight. Of course, she stuffed all her reader’s heads with cabbage, but she still succeeded.
Get to know your readers. Then steal them in your first two lines.
Show them what a real work of art is.
~ Ryan Fletcher