So much has been said about the relationship between a writer and readers. Even modern science and commerce has got in on this act of engagement. Steve Jobs of Apple set the bar high. But, apparently, Eve got the ball rolling to start with. There’s high reward in getting this relationship right.
Mary Oliver is one of the top selling poets in the world – and takes much stick from the literary establishment for her popularity. She said she always asks herself, before finishing a poem, what she expects her readers to bring to the party. Her theory is that the poem can only be made whole in the reading. She asks herself has she left enough space for the reader to engage and communicate with the work? For me, her poem Wild Geese achieves this beautifully. Sometimes a writer can try to produce a piece that is whole in itself, nothing left to add or do – a masterpiece! But for Oliver this is not the deal, it is selfish and precludes the reader’s self exploration, subdues their natural inquisitiveness. Furthermore, the reader does not get hooked, is not enticed in to look for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Oliver’s much loved poetry has a gravity that mysteriously pulls the reader in. In this, she is the doyen of mother nature, she is immersed in the holistic and asks her followers to join her as equals. She asks us to take our rightful place.
Here is another fine expression of the contract, the promise that rewards perseverance. Jenny Crusie is a best selling author of romance novels. Her method is almost to make her introduction a complete marketing campaign! Who could resist the lure? What is going to happen to the lovers, who will we root for?
“I absolutely believe that: the introduction to a story makes a promise to the reader, says this is what this story is going to be about, here are the people to root for, here’s the genre, the mood, the setting, the tone, everything. And then people read/view that promise and decide whether to sign on for the story.”
Jenny Crusie, quoted on Swoon Reads
I have often wondered how the psychology of this engagement worked. In his book In Pursuit of Elegance, Matthew E May posed some questions early – What made the Sopranos finale one of the most-talked-about events in television history? Why is Sudoku so addictive and the iPhone so irresistible?
This is where we find the link, I think, with the top selling media mongers! It’s the fact that to satisfy infinite human curiosity something has to be missing. Our species had to search relentlessly for food and resources to survive, our brains are almost perfect organs for finding patterns in chaos; search, exploration, recognition and reward. This is the mechanism.
Steve Jobs introduced a brand new smart phone. It had no keyboard, just a virtual one on a screen. He was asked when the marketing campaign was going to start. There wouldn’t be one. When would the device be in the shops. Oh! About eight months. Can we have the details? Well, we’ll talk to you journalists as we go along. The rest is history, the world has never stopped queuing up to pay for these elegant products. The irony is that Steve Jobs knew what to promise, what to give, and what to teasingly hold on to.
So what of the science? It’s about Managing the Power of Curiosity. Two researchers, Soman and Menon, worked on the phenomenon exhaustively and reduced it to an essence: First, we have to show a moderate gap in the reader’s knowledge. Not too much or the reader will think the ask too high and give up. Second, we must provide enough of the solution to make them want to find the complete answer. This will give them a personal edge – in the survival game! Third, we have to give them the time and space to resolve their curiosity on their own, which, I think, is where Mary Oliver left us!
How can we apply the principles to Blogging, that’s the challenge.