A couple days ago I became an officially licensed hypnotherapist in the state of Washington. Hypnosis has been a hobby of mine for a couple years, partly because it provides some very interesting insight into how the mind works, and partly because, well, it’s just plain fun.
Admittedly, hypnosis has a dubious reputation. The mere fact that it’s associated with “mind control” means that the field tends to attract a lot of charlatans and con artists. It’s not hard to find sites on the Internet which advertise sure-fire ways to hypnotize your boss into doing what you want, or seducing hot women in twenty-two seconds, or becoming the greatest negotiator of all time. Hypnosis is also still somewhat mysterious and not very well understood, which means that people are even more likely to believe whatever specious claims come their way, and to doubt the real information. It’s hard to know which sources are trustworthy and which aren’t. The science of hypnosis is about as well understood as the science of sleep– in other words, not well at all.
That said, there are a few definite facts: hypnosis exists, although usually in a less dramatic fashion than most people imagine. Put simply, hypnosis is the ability of the mind to enter a trance, and chances are you do it multiple times a day. For example, if you’ve ever been driving somewhere and ended up going the wrong way because you were thinking about something else, or gotten so absorbed in what you were doing that you stopped noticing the outside world, then you’ve entered a state called environmental hypnosis.
Environmental hypnosis happens at other times, too: if you’ve ever been so engrossed in a movie that world around you faded out, and the movie felt real to you, that was a form of hypnosis. Or if you’ve ever gotten so deeply into a book that time seemed to fade, that the words on the page seemed less like words and more like a window into a world that you could see and feel and touch, that’s hypnosis, too.
You heard me: writers, when they operate at their best, are hypnotists. Good stories can actually put the reader or listener in a trance, so that the characters and the setting become totally real in the reader’s mind, if only for a little while. The words transcend being mere words, and become a doorway into another world.
That ideal, more than anything, is what I aspire to when I write. It’s incredibly hard to do, and I’ve found that in addition to having the usual elements of storytelling in place—complex characters, vibrant setting, compelling plot—even the rhythm of the words has a crucial role in setting this up. A single misplaced comma or ill-chosen word can cause the reader to stumble and break that trance, and turn the words on the page from a window back into mere words.
Sometimes this is called transparent prose, or invisible prose. Prose that’s so smooth, so flowing, that the reader forgets they’re reading a story. Some people will say it has to be simple (to which I disagree wholeheartedly), but it often has to be constructed as meticulously as poetry— each word is important, in meaning, in style, in rhythm.
Rhythm in my writing is something I struggle with a lot, not just to achieve, but even to define. What is it, exactly? It’s language that flows naturally in the mind, that mirrors the emotions the readers and the characters are feeling, that uses things like flow, and speed, to enhance the writing in the text. In great writing, it’s not just the words that convey emotion and meaning, it’s the style and the construction of the sentences, the paragraphs, the chapters. On every level, the writing has to work in unison.
I love it when writing truly becomes a window, when it transports me to another place and another world, when it creates real characters in my mind whom I become friends with and care about. It’s one of the reasons I became a writer in the first place.
And I suppose in that sense, it’s natural that I picked up an interest in actual hypnosis along the way. I wonder how else I can put it to use.
You are getting sleepy… very sleepy…
You will buy my stories, available soon at major retailers…
Hmm. Maybe not.