When you write without an emotional connection, it comes across like News.
Eighteen people died when a train collided with a stalled bus on the tracks just outside of Hong Kong this morning. The reported counts of injured passengers continue to rise. Last report was over 100 and many of those are in critical condition with life threatening injuries. Volunteers are searching the wreckage. Officials working on the scene are handling this catastrophe with expertise, but have admitted they expect the death toll to rise….
I am emotionally affected when I read stories like this one, but not connected. First of all, I don’t know any of the victims. That sounds cold, I agree, but we react stronger to events when we personally know people who are involved.[i]I also don’t have any names, and that is another detail we react to. People we are personally concerned about, have names.[ii]
Details are good, but the ones in this News blurb are just facts. I have a visual, but not a connection. I can visualize a lot of activity and maybe some blood, and some tears.. but again, I’m on the other side of a glass wall. My empathy hopes that more people won’t die, that everyone will get the help they need -- but honestly, the pizza man showing up with my delivery will be sufficient distraction to pull me away from the story -- and since I didn’t have a connection when I left, I’m not likely to come back -- that’s true of a news story, and the novel that hasn’t ‘sparked my interest’.
It was about 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 14 that 18-month-old baby Jessica McClure, playing with four other toddlers at her Aunt Jamie Moore's home day- care center in Midland, Texas, somehow slipped into an abandoned well shaft. Exactly how she did it may never be known; neighbors and relatives say a flowerpot had been propped over the well's eight-inch opening; Jessica's mother, 18-year-old Reba (Cissy) McClure, insists that the hole had been covered with a heavy rock. Father Chip McClure, also 18, was at work. Cissy had stepped away for a moment when she heard the children screaming. Discovering what had happened, she says she was ''scared, panicked. I didn't know what to do. I just ran in and called the police. They were there within three minutes, but it felt like a lifetime.''
When the call came into the newsroom, across the emergency radio, Andrew Forrest, a local reporter, took notes as fast as he could. Stuck in his world of hen contests, and jello-molds, this story presented a chance to write real honest news. He wrote up a quick story for the Wire, and sent it out. Andrew got good grades in college and he knew how to write a news story, but working in Midland, Tx loosened him up, so when the story flew out on the wire, it didn’t say an 18 month old girl fell into a well. It said:
“Baby Jessica has fallen into an old well behind the Morales’ house. Because of the shape of the hole and the type of ground, rescuers can’t reach her, and they fear digging to widen the hole, as it might break the earth and send Jessica further into the well. Rescuers report they can hear her crying...”
The country went ballistic
It took a full 58 hours to get her out of that hole -- and every man, woman and kid was glued to the radio and TV. We did nothing except watch the rescuers. The monkey was cool. This guy had one of those spider monkeys, like music grinders had? And the monkey was able to go down with sandwiches and small cups of water.
Every hour the news interrupted whatever was on TV, -- which was fine with us -- we weren’t interested in that show anyway -- to give the Baby Jessica Update, with new colors, blinding logo graphics -- the graphics becoming more red and dark blue every time -- urgent colors with light flashing along the edges -- cleaner and more active every hour. Someone was working their ass off on those anxiety building Baby Jessica Rescue logos -- like we needed animated influencing to heighten our anxiety. We were already so jacked up, ferrets on espresso had more calm.
It was tense too. There were people losing it! Just breaking-down and running into the street screaming about Baby Jessica, “Fuck! Fuck! Get her out! I can’t stand it! Why can’t someone do something!”
Let’s stop there and take a look at what I’ve used to build this up. Are you into this story? I hope so.
Before getting into the step by step of the article above, notice what really caused the nation to react in such a unique and urgent manner. Lots of kids fall in holes, wander off, get lost, we hear about them all the time, at least ten a year if you’re a News watcher. So why did this one affect the whole nation with a compulsive urgency to know what was happening every hour? The news was not about a child, or a little girl. The story was about Baby Jessica.
We knew her name.
She wasn’t Mr. and Mrs. Brown’s eighteen month old little girl, either. We knew ‘her’ name.
Now, the blow by blow look.
The first thing I did was give you a puzzle. “Are you old enough to remember Baby Jessica?” and then I walked away from that question.. I walked away and went straight into “education mode,” and began talking about the news. This does two things: 1) it teases you. I’m not answering the question. I’m not telling you why I brought up the subject. And “Baby Jessica” sounds like it might be something interesting. In simple terms I gave you a puzzle.
2) going from there and into the subject -- the news -- connects it to Baby Jessica. We might get into this in depth later, but this is called an Implied Connection or Implied Fact. I don’t tell you there is a connection between News and Baby Jessica, but the way the brain processes, and comprehends information, you made that connection instantly.
It is very …[ really... I don’t use the word “very” often. It is a lazy word. However when talking to other writers I find that if I use a more purple word they don’t give it the proper weight of importance. So if I use the word “very” I’m flagging something as having a -- this will make or break a story-- level of importance. So, this is a very important aspect of writing.]
We need to recognize Implied Facts[iii] when we write them. Hopefully we wrote them on purpose. Accidental ones happen all the time, and they are a bitch to find and edit, because .. you wrote it, and didn’t catch it, so it is unlikely that you’ll be able to find them later as well. And if you don’t know what you are looking for -- How the hell are you suppose to know what they look like?
Implied facts are often proximity connections. News and Jessica is a “proximity” connection -- I bring up the puzzle subject and then another subject which doesn’t have an obvious connection to anything said so far -- so the brain makes it connect to the puzzle automatically. As the writer, I get you interested, then set the hook by not addressing Jessica directly -- by changing the subject and tone of the writing -- causing a small but real feeling of need or even desperation that i’m going to leave you hanging. Then I talk about News.
As is the implied obligation to address this and solve for the reader… which we’ll get to in just a moment.
Focus on puzzles[iv][v][vi][vii] has been studied .. forever. Puzzles are heavy hitters in Intrinsic Motivation[viii]. The human mind focuses on them automatically, and will go so far as to create false memories[ix][x][xi][xii] in order to convince us to stay focused on them until we solve them -- the false memories contriving us with compulsory importance.
Sudoku? Do you play that game? Ever see someone with one on the table, and you see a solution? Drives you crazy, right? In that brief instant, your mind left whatever subject you were thinking about -- which was probably important and you’ll never remember it now -- latched on to the puzzle and began to solve. That’s why you now see a solution over there.
The human mind goes into “pattern matching” mode.[xiii] This mode is responsible for seeing faces in clouds, or birds or dragons? Patterns on sculpted carpet, finding patterns in the randomness of traffic?.. all of that is the mind in pattern matching mode[xiv][xv][xvi]. You will grab a hold of any offered stimulation at that point and attempt to fit it to the puzzle, and find the solution[xvii]. I’ve read some studies where this phenomena gets pretty crazy. [xviii]
So, the connection is made, whether it makes sense or not. We are not discussing logic, we are discussing the mind.
We’ll come back to this next statement in a bit. What is important here is that using the Implied Connection with the Puzzle, I’ve developed a “need” in the reader[xix][xx]. Romance readers are very open to an emotional connection, as i’ve said before, but what I didn’t add is that they are very happy when they find one.
Let’s run quickly through it again, looking now at the expectation. The “emotional connection” gives you the expectation that Baby Jessica has something to do with the News. I asked if you were “old enough” and that adds credibility to your connection and bolsters this expectation (because it implies Baby Jessica is something that happened at least 15 to 20 years ago, right? Maybe an old news story?
But I don’t tell you. I’m not giving you details. And I’ve given you a puzzle. Most readers aren’t going to stop reading at that point until they find out who the hell Baby Jessica is … at least.
When I go into the News story about the wreck in Hong Kong, I keep it moving, and don’t slow down. What I mean by that is -- study at the length of the sentences. The first sentence is long, and flows from one word to another, the tone of each word is close to monotone. The second sentence is short, and hits with high emotional energy. The third, again long, back to the mono with growing levels of bad news. Then hit again, then the “losing battle’ They run fast, because I’m not using big words or a lot of description.
Why? Because I’m building up Baby Jessica. That’s still in your head, and your brain is gathering it all and pattern matching for the puzzle. I’m giving an example of a news story that doesn’t make an emotional connection, while I’m pushing the emotional content -- notice how often I use descriptive words --- and like magic I’ve suddenly put a baby into a train wreck. And by the time I’m done, you’re pretty sure that Baby Jessica is in that wreck somewhere, even though I don’t say it, or even hint about that. (implied fact again)
What I say in the next paragraph, about the details are just facts is very important. I’m shoving them in your face at that point. I’m in full instructor mode. But none of them are the facts you want to know about.
Now -- push urgency.
Tempo creates urgency at this point. Breaking up the sentence lengths, going from ‘blow by blow’ to commentary to description, humor – keeping the reader from being able to foresee or guess what is coming next, creates interest, and thus is building a sense of urgency.
Except, you still have an expectation. You expect that Baby Jessica has something to do with a News story.
If I don’t fulfill that expectation soon, I’ll lose you by chapter three no matter how good my book is. -- because you won’t trust me. If I do fulfill it, I can make the next “tension rising” scene a little longer, because you’ll trust me more and you’ll have faith that I’ll “solve the puzzle”
Romance requires these tension rising scenes.
- Is she going to get him?
- Is he really that much of an ass?
- Did he mean that?
- How can she leave now?
Romance is really one tension scene after another, building, solving a little, then building up again.
Which is why I don’t rescue Baby Jessica at the end of the demo. I let you know it takes 58 hours, and I show that we’re all glued to the TV and radio, but I don’t actually get her out of the hole. She’s still down there, in the dark, crying. -- see how easy it was to take you back there? Three sentences and I can go right back into the tension rising.
This cycle is fairly well known -- And a very good technique to use throughout your novel -- and once you have used it for a while, get use to the rhythms and how it works with your style, no one will ever suggest that your novel doesn't’ have spark again.
[i] Lerner, Jennifer S et al. "Emotion and decision making." Psychology 66 (2015).
[ii] Metzger, Scott Alan. "The Borders of Historical Empathy: Students Encounter the Holocaust through Film." The Journal of Social Studies Research 36.4 (2012): 387-410.
[iii] Harris, Richard J et al. "Remembering implied advertising claims as facts: Extensions to the “real world”." Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society 16.4 (1980): 317-320.
[iv] Rosenzweig, Saul. "An experimental study of'repression'with special reference to need-persistive and ego-defensive reactions to frustration." Journal of Experimental Psychology 32.1 (1943): 64.
[v] Beck, Aaron T. Cognitive therapy and the emotional disorders. Penguin, 1979.
[vi] Pink, Daniel H. Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Penguin, 2011.
[vii] Cosmides, Leda, and John Tooby. "Evolutionary psychology and the emotions." Handbook of emotions 2 (2000): 91-115.
[viii] "What Is Intrinsic Motivation? - Psychology - About.com." 2013. 3 Jul. 2015 <http://psychology.about.com/od/motivation/f/intrinsic-motivation.htm>
[ix] Loftus, Elizabeth F, and Jacqueline E Pickrell. "The formation of false memories." Psychiatric annals 25.12 (1995): 720-725.
[x] Loftus, Elizabeth F. "Creating false memories." Scientific American 277.3 (1997): 70-75.
[xi] McDermott, Kathleen B, and Henry L Roediger. "Attempting to avoid illusory memories: Robust false recognition of associates persists under conditions of explicit warnings and immediate testing." Journal of Memory and Language 39.3 (1998): 508-520.
[xii] Hyman, Ira E, Troy H Husband, and F James Billings. "False memories of childhood experiences." Applied Cognitive Psychology 9.3 (1995): 181-197.
[xiii] Pinker, Steven. "How the mind works." Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 882.1 (1999): 119-127.
[xiv] Anderson, John R, and Gordon H Bower. Human associative memory. Psychology press, 2014.
[xv] Foss, Donald J, and David A Harwood. "Memory for sentences: Implications for human associative memory." Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 14.1 (1975): 1-16.
[xvi] Wilson, Margaret. "Six views of embodied cognition." Psychonomic bulletin & review 9.4 (2002): 625-636.
[xvii] Markman, Arthur B, and C Miguel Brendl. "Constraining theories of embodied cognition." Psychological Science 16.1 (2005): 6-10.
[xviii] Gardner, Howard. Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. Basic books, 2011.
[xix] Maximini, Dominik. "Creating a Sense of Urgency." The Scrum Culture (2015): 99-105.
[xx] Haryanto, Jony Oktavian. "Role of Promotion in Creating Influence Power, Impulsive Buying, and Autobiographical Memory”." Jurnal Manajemen 13.2 (2012).
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