Using quite a few jumbled analogies and metaphors, we have proceeded through the levels of Zero Attention (largely ignoring it as it ignores us) and Momentary Attention (encouraging it to linger with gifts) and arrived at Intermittent Attention.
Having largely dismissed those who give us Zero Attention, we have focused on that mysterious shadowy troupe of people who visit us momentarily, and - depending upon which analogy you prefer - we have left out a saucer of milk, lured the cat or the deer in closer, and opened the gate for them to come in.
We’ve done this through fully understanding what our work is all about, as much as we can, and communicating that in as assimilable a way as possible, through some kind of free gift.
You know the kind of thing - you probably get bombarded with it every day in one form or another. The assumption is that you will download or otherwise acquire something simply because it is free - as though the whole world is waiting to read the item and the only thing stopping them getting it has been the money.
But free gifts that are random first chapters or excerpts or even whole books only work when they have something of a different aura about them: when they suggest something deeper and more worthwhile than just the fact that they are ‘free’.
The world is loaded with free samples - to be effective, one must offer deeper value.
For fiction writers, this means Meaning.
Meaning is a big topic and deserves a deeper study than we can give it here. But if we want to control and guide attention, we had better know something about Meaning.
Remember, there are Seven Levels of Attention. Though we are looking at Intermittent Attention here, the levels above this one remain pertinent: Captured Attention, Emerging Attention, Focused Attention and Deep Attention. Deep Attention is the wellspring to which we are headed, and from which the waters of Meaning flow. It is those waters which make the rest work.
What does that mean?
Readers - of whichever gender, whatever interest, whoever they live, whatever they do, and whatever stories they prefer - seek one overarching simplicity.
They are all looking for Meaning.
That meaning might come in the form of a vicarious conflict which the reader experiences through characters, or in the shape of a romantic encounter, or in the more refined levels of understanding more about Life. Whatever else the story contains at plot, character or style level, it must contain Meaning of one kind or another.
Meaning could be said to be the sense of comprehensible connection between things.
The more Meaning a story contains, the deeper it goes. Deep Attention is acquired, as we shall see later, when a piece of fiction resonates with so much significance, is capable of swallowing up and enhancing so many interpretations, it becomes powerful enough to burst out of its own words and affect Life directly.
The comprehensible connections spread outward, like ripples, from the heart of the work to the world beyond.
When readers move from granting you or your work fleeting Momentary Attention to a more lingering Intermittent Attention, it is these outer ripples, this deeper significance, that they are probably detecting. To increase the chances of that happening, you must understand your own work to a marked degree, and be capable of communicating at least some of that understanding at a level that readers can grasp.
That might all sound a little abstract, and it is - because Meaning is not just one thing but potentially a whole lot of things, interconnected and intertwined and significant to many from all kinds of angles. It’s hard to talk about it as a single ‘thing’: it's a network of connections.
We'll look at a specific example tomorrow.