Writing Fiction: What's the Point? Part Three
The Focusing Protocol is a method for bringing about something called ‘analytic/imaginative dissociation’, or encouraging the prospective reader’s imagination to take over from their usual analytical perceptions so that they are attracted to and read your book.
More specifically, the Protocol is intended to move prospects from Analytical Outward Thinking, through Marginal Drifting and Rhythmic Transition into a condition called Distinct Drifting, which is a state in which the act of ‘reading’ takes place. Ultimately, you want readers to then enter Imaginative Play when they are fully immersed in your story.
These modes are not some new kind of state: we all move between two or more of them in the course of any period of time, swinging across these bands as part of ordinary human living: we pay attention to our environments but occasionally daydream or get caught up in a task or activity which takes place in another frame entirely, like playing a video game or watching a movie. When we do those other, more imaginatively orientated things, including reading fiction, the world in which we are physically sitting moves away and we enter another world to some extent.
The Focusing Protocol teaches us to orientate, echo, reframe and deepen warm prospects’ imaginative responses so that they become readers of your fiction.
As you can see, the steps seem pretty basic. What is important is that they gently break down your subject’s fixation with the outer world by shifting awareness away from it towards their imaginations. Every time you take one of these steps, prospects end up further and further in their imaginations — entering other worlds, in other words, and specifically your other world.
By the way, the use of the term ‘worlds’ might suggest that the Protocol steps only apply to science fiction or fantasy stories, where the world being presented is overtly different from the one the reader inhabits — but this would be a misconception. These steps apply to everything from ‘realistic’ fiction, literary fiction, any genre, any kind of fiction — because even in a story in which the world seems almost identical to the one we live in, it obviously isn’t ‘real’ in the same way. As a writer, you’re still trying to get prospective readers to leave their outer environment and enter the story environment.
You’re guiding them away from purely analytical, outward-focused thinking into imaginative, inward-focused feeling; you’re turning down their ordinary perceptions, the ones that they use all the time to observe and assess the physical world, and permitting them to engage a different set of perceptions, the ones used to see, hear, touch and experience fictive worlds.
Orientation and echoing, done properly, encourage the prospect to cross a threshold. Whether or not the prospect thinks he or she is going into another world is irrelevant, because by the time they notice it, it will already have happened.
The Focusing Protocol redirects attention, bypasses the demands of the immediate physical environment, activates an imaginative or emotional response, and then uses that response to lead towards the desired outcome of the prospect becoming a reader of your fiction, engaging fully with the story.
Let’s see how the Focusing Protocol can be seamlessly woven into what you do as a writer.
If you have created a body of ‘warm prospects’ using techniques described earlier, you have already accomplished most of the first step, Orientation. Your prospect is part of a group of people who have self-selected themselves into the general vicinity of your work, usually by being in a social media group relating to your genre of writing. By being in and amongst the broad topic of that group, they are ‘orientated’ in a general way — all that remains is for you to position your own work in relation to other works of a similar nature within that group, and decide exactly how you will subtly draw the prospect’s attention to it within that context.
You’ll naturally have created your own patterns in the style of that genre, so that your work will already seem ‘at home’ in the company of the other works being mentioned and discussed.
Instead of talking about your book, though, ask questions or make comments revolving around whatever is happening at the time in the group. You might ask members how they’re feeling at that particular moment about a particular book under discussion or known in that genre. Or you might choose to comment on other connected topics.
Any existing discussion relating to any relevant post in a social media group can be used as a starting point to get prospects’ attention and begin shifting their awareness. The simple fact that they are there, participating in the group, means that they are Marginally Drifting or engaged in a Rhythmic Transition away from the mundane matters of their usual physical environment.
By engaging in a conversation about related matters, you begin to Echo their interests. Anyone who hears their own interests reflected back at them in some way starts to relax and feel at ease.
Once you’ve got to this point, the next step is to Reframe their perceptions.
How is reframing accomplished?
By asking questions that lead them in a chosen direction, and echoing those questions with information that’s relevant to their experience, you build a loop that keeps the momentum moving forward towards your fiction.
This is all about getting an imaginative response. With the Focusing Protocol, you want the prospect to begin to engage in a conversation, however lightly, about your book in the same way that he or she has been discussing well-known authors or works in your genre.
You’re not trying to ‘trick’ them into liking your fiction — you want to get an association to take place. If you do this gently, without at all being ‘salesy’ or feeling that you must have the person buy your book right then and there, you will have someone who will be keen to keep following along to see what else is going to come up and who will be willing to enter a discussion the next time.
If the prospect goes along with what you’re talking about, good; if not, that’s fine too. Build rapport to increase their trust in you as the writer by continuing to echo what you hear and read in the group, and then continue with the Focusing Protocol.
The aim is to achieve a reframing: the person no longer sees the subject in terms of ‘famous books over here and you as a new unknown author over there’ but has imaginatively incorporated a new item, your work, into the general perception of the genre.
He or she has ‘reframed’ the area: you’re now on the inside.
The final step is where you Deepen that result.
You use your fiction to create emotional change.
This is the engagement stage where your story or stories do the actual imaginative work.
Once you get used to the technique, the previous steps will smoothly induce a reading trance that makes it possible for real engagement to take place.
From here, it’s up to your fiction to take things forward, based on the crafting techniques that best suit your writing.
One of the secrets of making all this work is patience. Give your prospect a suggestion and then keep quiet – allowing them time to process your suggestion and naturally deepen the progress at the same time.
If this sounds like a lot of work, in actuality it is hardly ‘work’ at all — the above describes the general ebb and flow of ordinary human conversation, whether about fiction or not. The real hard and often disappointing work arises when the above outline is not followed — then hours and hours are utterly wasted, possibly along with hundreds of pounds or dollars, and you get few or no results.
The Focusing Protocol works precisely because it is a protocol: an accepted or established code of procedure or behaviour which is agreed upon and gets results. If it didn’t exactly parallel human communication, it wouldn’t succeed at all — but it triumphs wherever it is applied.