People are moved by emotion. The best way to emotionally connect other people to our agenda begins with “Once upon a time…”
While focusing on a business context, the article (from which all the quotes in this article are taken) is a great read and well worth your time for anyone who needs reminding about the power of words and of story. But it was Gottschall’s mention of Tell to Win, a book by Peter Guber, and its central metaphor of the Trojan Horse as representing the power of story, that really caught my attention.
Drop Your Reader’s Guard
In the story of the Trojan Horse, the Greeks were at war with Troy, and spent a decade locked in stalement with the Trojans as they attempted to take their city. After realising that they would never take the city this way, they feigned retreat and left a giant wooden horse behind as a “gift”. Of course, the Greek soldiers were hiding inside, and revealed themselves in the dead of night once the Trojans had kindly pulled the horse into the city.
As a writer, you are in a battle with your reader. You are the General in this little war, and your words are your soldiers. What are the spoils of war? That your reader is captivated by your story, moved to tears, horror, laughter or surprise.
But what are you fighting against? You and your writing is up against the reader’s doubts, and sometimes these defenses can be really strong. After all, why should they care what you have written? They may be skeptical of your work, new to your genre perhaps. Also, you are competing for their time. When a reader picks up your book, or looks at your website or your article, they are making a choice, to read that instead of doing something else. They need to be convinced that they want to keep on reading.
When we are absorbed in a story we drop our intellectual guard. We are moved emotionally and this seems to leave us defenseless.
To truly engage your reader, you need to get them to drop their guard.
As far as tactics go, a huge wooden horse is pretty bold. But in its ostentatious bravado lies the reason why it worked.
When you are confronted, as the Trojans were, with a massive horse made of wood just left on your doorstep, you kind of have to accept it. You drop your guard.
The Greeks only came up with the idea of the horse after a decade of war and stalemate. 10 years of trying to take the city by force, and they had got nowhere. So they had to be clever.
If you force your writing, and force your reader into caring about your characters and your themes and the plot, then you’ll fail to engage them. You have to be clever, and that means not trying to win them over. Just concentrate on building your Trojan Horse; just concentrate on creating a wonderful story.
The Greeks left their horse as a gift (albeit a bloody and false one…). You, as a writer, have to give your reader gifts too, but make them geniune!
Be generous with your readers. You have to give yourself up, open your heart and writing with truth and honesty, not holding anything back. Only then will your readers open themselves to your story.
The audience accepts the story because, for a human, a good story always seems like a gift.
Just Write The Story
Do what you do best, and write the story. If you concentrate on this, your reader will be defenseless against your words and open their gates, and their heart, to your message.
Please share your thoughts and comments below!