Tuesday, September 21, 2010
DC4W: Dramatize ideas, appeal to noble motives, and make it a challenge
Continuing our on-going series on Dale Carnegie for Writers (DC4W), the last three principles in the Twelve Ways to Win People to Your Way of Thinking, the third section in How to Win Friends and Influence People, are:
10. Appeal to noble motives.
Carnegie explains that appealing to the person they imagine themselves to be is an effective way to motivate people. He uses example phrases like, "Because I know you're an honest person ...," to show how such an appeal is both disarming and enabling.
Of course, starting a query with something like, "Dear Ms. Agent, Because I know you to be a person of such impeccable taste that you will instantly see the superior merit of my book ..." is almost certain not to produce the desired effect.
As writers, this principle has more subtle application. Done right, we invite people to become better by reading our books. The potential self-improvement might be more obvious with non-fiction, but fiction offers the improvement that comes through experiencing and understanding the story.
Why do readers spend their time with our fiction? They want to step away from their common concerns and experience something different. Even if your characters and their actions are anything but noble, the catharsis of a well-told tale is ennobling.
And in terms of craft, the characters who populate our work should have something admirable about them. Event the blackest-hearted villain might have an admirable tenacity.
11. Dramatize your ideas.
In a general sense, this principle echos the mantra of the writer, "Show don't tell." Dramatizing, or showing, does two important things: 1) it allows the other person to experience the idea, and 2) it enables the other person to come to their own conclusions about the idea.
Dramatizing your ideas is a powerful way to follow principle seven, "Let the other person feel the idea is his or hers." Remember, enticing someone to adopt your idea creates a far stronger commitment than compelling them.
As a writer, it's a skill you need to master at every level, from your novel to your query. Indeed, you could make a fine case that dramatizing ideas is the heart and soul of what we as writers do.
12. Throw down a challenge and don't talk negative when the person is absent, talk about only positive.
This principle may sound most like a motivational technique: in Carnegie's book the example he uses is that of a supervisor who set up a contest to see which shift was more productive instead of yelling at the workers to work harder.
What does this have to do with writing?
(I'll see your rhetorical question and up the ante with one of my own.)
What's the purpose of the hook? Or the title? Or the cover? Or the back cover copy?
All of these, at a fundamental level, throw down a challenge to potential readers--something like, "I'll bet you want to find out what this is all about."
A well crafted story delivers challenge after challenge in the form of interesting characters, twisting plots, and rising tension, all of which entice the reader onward.
Notice that the theme running through these three principles is that it is better to entice than compel.
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