Game of Cults: Using Language to Enrich Your Stories and Unlock Your Reader’s Emotions

The power of language

Remember a few articles back when I talked about pivoting?

Pivoting is another word for failure.

When we find that our initial idea was wrong or failed to deliver the intended result, we try something else and call it “pivoting.”

Saying “I failed” is emotionally charged.

Nobody wants to fail.

“Pivoting” makes us sound intelligent. Agile.

Something else we tell ourselves—“I had to make a mistake to learn from it.”

And that’s true. There are a plethora of platitudes about learning from your mistakes, but the truth is… we don’t want to be the person who fails, even if we’re “failing forward.”

It’s motivational when said but can be demoralizing when it happens to you.

The words I choose to tell my story to myself and others are powerful.

They are my reality and can influence yours.

This brings us to the power of language—the best tool in your arsenal.

Why language is an author’s best tool

Your product is like no other. It exists in the mind of the consumer. It comes to fruition where memory, association, thought, and language intersect.

Your imaginary world and characters manifest in the same place as we process reality.

Let’s unpack this idea.

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The Sapir Whorf hypothesis is that language influences thought rather than the other way around. The idea being, if you don’t have the words to describe your thought or a variety of words to bring nuance to that thought, it changes how you think.

Take, for example, Eskimos. They have a hundred different words for snow, while other cultures only have a few.

When you see “snow,” what do you think of?

Light, fluffy, cold—but probably not the one hundred variations of snow that an Eskimo knows intimately.

Why? Because this information is crucial to their existence, and so their culture has made all the separate words needed to express that information. And if you were to learn all those new Eskimo words for “snow,” you’d likely see snow differently too.

So, language can affect the way you think. But does that mean you can’t think at all without language?

One cartoonist sees a flaw in that supposition.

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There’s another way of thinking about linguistic relativity. How and what you feel is relative to the language you speak and the needs you have to communicate.

Bear with me. I promise not to delve into structural semantics, post-structuralism, and language theory. I’ll keep this simple.

Language is your best tool because the words you use in your story can influence your readers.

When they read your words, they will treat them just like any sensory input and process them just like they do the real world.

When we get to group dynamics, we’ll explore how powerful and dangerous language can be to limit thought and control a group.

Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and hypnosis look to the use of words to influence thought and behavior. Both systems believe that behavior can change through the words you use on the subjects exposed to those words.

If you’re with me on the idea that we can influence others with our words, you are in a unique situation because of how your product is used.

A reader takes time to read, comprehend, and imagine your story and, in that process, taps into their memories and associations to complete the experience.

This is especially true for genre fiction, where the act of reading is meant to be a pastime, a way to unwind. This means that most readers go into a hypnotic state where focus and suggestibility are high.

As I said earlier, you can’t induce belief via brainwashing or hypnotism when the subject hasn’t agreed to the process.

However, if they agree and see these ideas as part of their identity, they become part of a reinforcing feedback loop.

As you write, your world-building and storytelling need to use language that encourages the reader to take on attributes of your brand.

Here is a video to help you think about how to close the gap between a reader’s perception and what you want them to come away with:

“Mind the Gap”

What I’m suggesting is being more deliberate with your language to:

  1. Get your characters and story world onto the reader’s self map.
  2. Use language to drive emotion by changing their expectations or perceptions of what they see as part of themselves.
  3. Use emotion to influence and modify behavior.

This is akin to world-building for an author.

Have your story become a part of your reader’s story so they care about your brand and, later, about being part of your community.

One more thing…

In Advantage, I talk about sacred words. These words or phrases take on higher meaning for those who identify with a group. What are the sacred words of your brand? This is another idea to explore with your readers. What do they see as your books’ “sacred” words? They may be different from what you intended.

Read: Determine Your Desired Action to Formulate an Effective Marketing Plan