Let me guess, you’ve been writing for a while but no one seems to be reading your work.
You’re having trouble creating believable dialogue, interesting character arc or a storyline that elicits even your own interest beyond page five.
There’s a reason for these problems. You’re failing to connect — emotionally.
You see, people are actually pretty smart. You know when you’re being lied to. Yes, you do actually have this power. And, so do your readers.
But more importantly, you know when something you read isn’t genuine. You can tell when writing seems canned, forced or manufactured. And you can tell just as easily when it comes right from the heart, from the seat of the author’s soul.
The latter is the work people want to read. These are the stories we crave because they’re formed from real, raw experience. They draw us in and keep us engaged. They make us feel something. They disturb us, in either a positive or negative way.
So how do you tap into this universal language and translate it onto the page?
It’s much easier than you might think.
1. Tickle the Lizard
I so wanted to add a dinosaur emoji to this subhead. But seriously, you need to find the lizard, and tickle the shit out of it.
No, I’m not really talking about literally tickling a lizard. What you want to do is stimulate the lizard brain — the primitive part of the human brain that tells you to run, or stand and fight.
This is the part that wants you to stay alive.
When you engage a reader by speaking directly to the lizard brain, you elicit the same response a caveman would have if he were being provoked by a sabretooth tiger, only at a much more non-life-or-death, diffused level.
Basically, the brain doesn’t know the difference if it’s death by velociraptor or death by losing one’s job (livelihood). See?
Speak to the pain points. Strike a little fear. Invoke worry. Make a character eviler than the devil himself through responsive imagery and you will make someone turn the page to see what happens next.
So go ahead. Poke the lizard.
2. Talk about home
Some of the greatest stories ever told follow the hero’s journey. And if by now you haven’t read the work of Joseph Campbell, you need to.
These are the epic journeys of people travelling far and making the return — returning home. And they keep us turning the page.
Because travelling home is a story that we all can relate to. We’ve all left home, and we’ve all returned. It’s an ancient rite of passage humans have been part of for thousands of years.
We’re all travelling home, right now. Each and every one of us.
One day you will die, and you will go home. Life is the journey.
Living is how we get there.
When you speak about going home, you’re speaking about the centre of someone’s world, their birthright — where they began life.
This brings forth a powerful emotional response.
Because we all want to go home.
“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
3. Write as if you were 8 years old
Don’t actually write, “My Dog Spot.” I’m pretty sure it’s already been written.
Instead, write with the eyes of a child — the child you once were.
Reflect a little. What made you want to be a writer? What made you get out of bed and engage the world with a sense of adventure?
What makes you who you are?
If you do a little self-introspection, you’ll typically find most of your life’s passion was formed as a child. This is when you developed your first sense of who you are — even now. Your first interests were formed. You became wise to the world, and it was yours to explore and conquer.
Everything was new.
Channelling that mindset, remembering the days when the street light came on and everyone went home, is a great way to get the emo juice flowing.
Revisit your 8-year-old self. What did that child love? Why?
Write about that.
4. Misery loves company
Misery is a dreadful bitch. And she loves company.
After many years working behind the bar, I can tell you one thing — miserable people can drag you into their world with ease. They want you to feel their pain. They want you to sympathize with them, to listen and be miserable alongside them.
This works with the written word as well.
Create misery and you will attract those with empathy. You’ll also attract those who desire misery.
So tread carefully with the pen.
It’s more than just a cycle on the washing machine. Some people enjoy a little agitation. Some crave being provoked.
So get under their skin a little.
Do you know that fly that’s always buzzing around your food at the family picnic? Yes, that asshole.
Humans are simple animals sometimes. We respond instinctively to agitation. So, give your readers a fly to swat.
Be that asshole.
Strike a nerve and you’ll have so many angry emails to read you won’t have time to worry about checking your booming stats.
6. Take something away
This is probably my least favourite method, but if done with a bit of grace it can be very effective.
We have all suffered loss of some sort. Whether this is losing a keepsake, something with sentimental value or losing a friend, lover or loved one.
Loss can be a devastating experience.
When you connect with the reader on this level, you speak directly to that part of life where they’re still healing. Opening this wound a little is painful, but when done properly and with care, you can also help to heal it — and close it completely.
One of the greatest accomplishments for a writer is having a reader come away healed, and feeling just a little bit better about himself than before.
Striving for the latter is the best.
“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
― Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
7. Give them hope
It’s well known in recent human history that the people who lived under oppressed leadership weren’t controlled by fear. But instead, by promises of hope.
People will follow you if you give them hope.
They will hold out until the very last second, to their final breath, so long as they have something to hope for.
When a reader has hope, when a character or point of view is so relatable that it puts you inside the story, this is what moves you from page to page with a smile on your face, and in your heart.
Hope transcends fear. A person can be in fear, but hope will get them across the burning bridge.
What’s on the other side of that bridge?
How would realizing this hope change their lives?
What do you hope for? What is the eternal prize? Is it the healing elixir that we’re all searching and hoping for?
Perhaps it’s just a better way of life.
So give them hope.
What moves you to read?
When we sound inauthentic with our words, they often fall flat on the page. It’s only by not trying that we open up and allow words to be authentic and flow forth from us.
Authenticity will be noticed every time, and it is the most efficient way to elicit emotion, to grab a reader by the heartstrings and keep them reading.
Once you’ve connected with readers on an emotional level, you’ve gained trust. You’ve established the common ground.
It’s upon this ground that you must build the story.
All great writing moves the heart. It creates a connection, a bond forged by emotion. Great writing disturbs and comforts. It frightens you and fills you with courage.
Great writing means creating tears of joy and sorrow.
Great writing is writing from your own emotional journey, and watching your own tears land on the page.
Nothing could be more genuine than that.