Stephen King, Dilbert and Hypnosis
Stephen King has famously said that writing is self hypnosis. He also said the writing is telepatthy. I agree with both, but today I want to focus on the former and leave the latter for your creative reflection.
Hypnosis and writing? Really? Yes, absolutely. In fact, the lack of awareness of these techniques only prove how stunningly potent they can be.
The bestselling author of multiple hypnosis books said that the moment he read the first chapter of 50 Shades of Grey he knew why it was a mega blockbuster hit.
Cartoonist Scott Adams, creator of the cultural phenomenon, Dilbert, studied hypnosis and confessed to using hypnotic principles to launch one of the most famous and beloved cartoons ever.
There are dozens if not hundreds of hypnotic writing principles. Together, these principles form a powerful literary bag of tricks.
While I don’t have time to cover all of the principles in a single blog, I’m planning on a series of posts and maybe even writing a book, webinar and Ecourse on the topic. Let me know if that sounds interesting to you. In these blog posts, you’ll learn a few of the most powerful hypnotic principles. Master them and you’ll not only stand out, you’ll break out!
Since there are about as many definitions of hypnosis as there are hypnotists, it’s probably helpful to define hypnosis for our purposes. To me, hypnosis is a state of focused attention and heightened suggestibility.
Most people are hypnotized approximately 10 times per day without even knowing it. You might be caught up in a good book, article or magazine. Or absorbed by a great movie. You might even go into what’s called “highway hypnosis” when you blank out for a couple miles even as you drive through stop lights, turns and navigate complicated routes – all without conscious awareness.
Hypnotic writing woos readers into the imaginative and emotional experience of the story. -Christopher Kokoski
Hypnotic Writing Secrets of Bestselling Authors
1. Symbolic Hypnosis: Symbols are letters, numbers, images and objects. There is a reason why a hypnotist or hypnotherapist uses words to lead clients into trance. Symbols act on our minds to create images and experiences. Symbols evoke emotions. Combinations of symbols, artfully applied, can trigger profound transformations in individuals or even entire groups of people. Deeply aware of the power of symbols, bestselling authors wield them in strategic ways to produce the desired effect.
2. A Single Symbol Repeated – Many bestselling authors strategically embed symbols into their stories. Often, there is a single symbol that runs throughout the entire narrative. The power of this use of symbol rests in its ability to remind the readers (and characters) of something important to the story – a loss, emotion, memory, consequence, etc. These single symbols can also dramatically show change in how characters respond to the symbol.
Examples: The ring in Lord of the Rings. The color red in The Sixth Sense. In my Past Lives series, the characters interact with a small, black tape recorder that largely symbolizes the relationship between two of the main characters. It serves different functions throughout the series from discovery, revelation, romance to weapon to manipulation. In a way, it is the entire story summed up in an single object.
3. A Variety of Related Symbols – Instead of a single symbol, many bestselling authors pepper their pages with multiple symbols. This becomes the overall experience for the reader. As I mentioned above, the first chapter of 50 Shades of Grey is a great example. Regardless of your view of the book or the writing, within a few pages, E.L. James overwhelms readers with a staggering number of symbols. Here are a few of them (emphasis mine) (note: there are many, many more):
- The gray power tie on the cover
- The title, 50 Shades of Grey
- Brush my hair into submission
- Sleep with it wet – repeated twice I might add and in italics for extra emphasis.
- Bring it under control
- Succumb to the flu
- Mega-Industriaist tycoon
- I have been volunteered
- Enigmatic CEO of Grey Enterprise Holdings (there is a lot packed into this description)
- His time is extraordinarily precious
- Extracurricular activities
- 9 months to get this interview (I bet the 9 months is no coincidence)
- Blow this off
- She looks gorgeous
- Kate can talk anyone into anything
- Huge, twenty story office building
- Architect’s utilitarian fantasy
You get the point. Alone, these words are mostly meaningless. Together, they begin to form a powerful subconscious set of images and expectations in the reader.
Apply It to Your Story
- Single Symbol Repeated: Examine your story. Ask yourself the following two questions: Is there a word, place, object or action that you have imbued with significance? Can you repeat this symbol two or three more times throughout the story to remind readers of something or to show character change? It could be something a character does or doesn’t do. A mother who never hugs her children, shows vulnerability at the end of the story and embraces her kids. A disgraced ex-military general who has sworn off violence picks up a gun. A criminal decides to help the protagonist. The possibilities are endless.
- A Variety of Related Symbols: Follow these steps. Write down the story theme, tone and overall emotion you want readers to feel. Next, brainstorm as many words, phrases and images related to that theme, tone and emotion. Fill up the page (or screen). Finally, pepper those words, phrases and images throughout the story in dialogue, description and action. Consider using one of the variations of one of the words in the title of the story. Is there an image that would work on the cover to engage and symbolically relay the theme, tone and emotion? Consider using it.