“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” – Karl A. Menninger, Born Jul. 22, 1893.
Wouldn't it be nice if we, as writers could listen to our readers?
We can't. I'm not listening to you now. These are words on a page. But I can make you think I am listening. That I have listened before. To all your plans and hopes and dreams and worries.
I can convince you of that by making guesses. Cold reading in word form. Educated estimations based on demographics and universal feelings and common shared experiences.
And if I do it right, feeding it back in as a loop, you begin to feel that I know you and you know me.
You confuse words on a screen for an actual person you're having a conversation with.
And you do unfold and expand to participate. You can't help it. You're doing it now.
If I have cleverly structured certain narratives, the reader (that's you) will insert yourself into the story.
When YOU read it, it taps YOUR memories and YOUR feelings. You make the story personal as your mind inflates inside it and grows to fill all the nooks and crannies.
Your first love. Who? A thousand different people are being thought of right now, as that line is being read. But you all think I am talking to you.
I build you a house of words. You paint it in your own colors and take ownership of it.
And when you do that, I own you.
Because I'm the one writing the story. You're just along for the ride. And if I give you a role, you might just fulfill it just the way I wrote it, so long as you're feeling it.
<!—- lagniappe Want to hear a weird little gimmick - one that convinces your readers you are conversing with them and you are LISTENING to their responses? A while back when I first published the above piece, a reader wrote me back and asked for something like this. A step by step way to create this response in her readers. We talked a bit about her niche and her writing experience. I asked whether she was writing to experienced, seasoned people within her niche, or if she was meant to be writing to eager beginners. She hadn’t ever really thought about that - and that’s important - so I recommended starting there. But after that conversation, I just kept thinking about what steps I would use. I looked at a few of my own daily emails and realized I was already doing it without thinking about it. So all I did was break it down so I could explain it. This is what I sent back to her. Step 1: Tell them a story about someone telling you something important to them, or describing a problem they need help with. This shows that people come to you for such things. Step 2: Show that you listened to them simply by relating how you asked a follow up question, or helped them go deeper into what they wanted to explore or talk about. This shows that you are attentive and insightful. Step 3: Show that you continued to think about that conversation later on, when alone, or even discussing it with another character. This shows that you care and carry the expressions of others with you. Step 4: Come to a conclusion on what your first character brought up with you - do this by comparing their situation to one in your own experience. You are showing how you are connected to them through common experiences that relate to each other. Step 5: Tell the details of what happened when you return to your friend and share this insight. How do they react? When they go off in the world and return later, how did the recommendations and advice pan out? What was the result? Step 6: Put the question to your reader now. Reframe it so that it’s obvious you are talking right to the reader - you want their input. And they will believe you are LISTENING. When I emailed this over, she loved it. I’m not gonna lie, I felt real good about that, but really, it wasn’t too much trouble. Just trying to re-share lessons I internalized through practice. About a week later, she wrote back again to tell me the steps really helped her tap into her audience. They were suddenly REPLYING to her newsletter, just like it was an email written directly to them individually. Which is great! That’s the perfect persuasive and influential frame. So - my question to you is: can you use this formula, too? Will you try it? I would love to hear about the outcome if you do. Just write me back and let me know. Even if just to tell me you liked this. —->
1 thought on “On Creating the Illusion of Two-Way Conversation, and Why It’s Valuable”
What a great post! One thing I want to learn more about is how you "cleverly structure the narrative"