Writing Fiction: What's the Point? Part Two
We’re looking at the Focusing Protocol, which is essentially a method for inducing a reading trance — not a hypnotic trance, but that peculiar condition which human beings experience when they ‘read a story’.
The Focusing Protocol absorbs attention, gently taking it off the person’s physical environment and stimulating the imagination in such a way that he or she moves towards a desired outcome, change or transformation — desired by you as a writer, and by them as a reader.
It does this by bringing about something called ‘analytic/imaginative dissociation'. This sounds technical, but is simply the transition from thinking in a conscious, rational way in which attention is outward on the environment, to a more emotional, imaginative use of the mind, as when reading fiction. The idea is to encourage the reader’s imagination to take over.
Human beings tend to have five main modes of thinking:
Analytical Outward Thinking
Totally conscious, analytical observation and assessment of the world around them, as when they are driving a car through complex traffic or working out a logic or mathematics problem.
A slight drifting away from the analytical mode, either intentionally or unintentionally, in which mental or other factors are distracting from, or included in, the constant assessment of the physical world. Both daydreaming and acting (imitating something real) fit here, along with other mental states. This is probably what most people think of as 'thinking'.
A rhythmic and not necessarily controlled interaction between the outer, rational world and an inner one, as defined by a swinging from an analytical state to a non-analytical one. You might identify with this if, as a writer, you try to plunge into creativity but often get pulled out by the demands of the 'real' world.
A more distinct drifting, in which the ‘real world’ is left behind and perhaps only rarely interrupts a more imaginative mode of thought or feeling. This is where reading (and writing, when you're 'in the zone') belong.
Total absorption in ‘play’, in which the imagination is freely ‘floating’ and interacting with an environment not necessarily connected to the physical world around the person, as when they are fully immersed in a story or dreaming.
Most of us spend most of our time moving between two or more of these modes — perhaps our work environment or some task we have to do demands that we are in ‘conscious thinking mode’ for much of the time, but even then, most people daydream to some degree, and wandering attention can lead us all the way to the dreamlike mode of play, in which the hard physicality of things is shut out for a time.
As writers, we are perhaps fortunate in that our ‘job’ is to try to spend as much time as we can leading towards the imaginative end of this thought spectrum, somewhere around the Distinct Drifting band. Until we can make a viable career of writing, though, to some degree we are summoned to spend time in our more solid and analytical work surroundings.
Readers are human beings too, obviously — they are, for the most part, paying attention to their environments and will more often than not walk right by any attempt to get them to do otherwise. BUT, is you have created a body of ‘warm prospects’ using the techniques of the Marketing Mantra, you will already have moved some people away from one end of the spectrum and into a mode in which their attention is more likely to operate imaginatively rather than pretty analytically.
The purpose of the Focusing Protocol is to move warm prospects from the cold logical end of this scale towards the imaginative end. The act of reading itself belongs in the Distinct Drifting band: when we read a book, the world in which we are physically sitting rarely impinges upon us; our minds are not focused on the outer environment but have drifted away into another world to one degree or another.
Here are the 4 components in the Protocol. We’ll examine what each component consists of exactly soon.
Your goal is to draw your potential reader’s attention, most likely in ‘analytical mode’ to some degree, to something to do with your fiction. A ‘warm prospect’ will by definition already be at Marginal Drifting and is more likely to be entering into some kind of Rhythmic Transition, away from their workaday world and towards another world altogether.
At this point, something about your fiction needs to echo something that the prospective reader already imagines or feels. You’re attempting to capture their already existing ‘rhythm’ and make it more distinct.
Elements of graphic design, blurb construction, your first page, recognisable arcehtypes, and so on all play their part here in conjuring up an alternative universe for the reader, one into which he or she feels they can slip as easily and as gently as possible. Focus here is on minimising ‘real world interruptions’, and encouraging the reading ‘trance’ to take hold.
Now you need to deepen the reading trance. There are lots of ways to do this, but the most effective is perhaps to simply keep presenting vacuums. You’ve already shown your reader a world beyond their conscious awareness, i.e. they’ve entered your fictional creation. So now your fiction needs to build on that while at the same time encouraging them to go even deeper.
You should be.
But this is just the beginning.