How to Trick People into Reading Your Story By Convincing Them it’s about Them

Showman P.T. Barnum once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” and if you believe he actually said that you may be one of them. Barnum promoted sideshow hoaxes like the Fiji mermaid and the Cardiff Giant but his biographer, Arthur H. Saxon, casts doubt on the idea that Barnum would openly “disparage his patrons.”

We believe misattributed quotes for the same reason we believe conventional theories that have been disproven time and again: they have staying power.

Take the Myer-Briggs personality test. The Myers-Briggs is based on outdated Jungian theories. It’s accuracy has been dwarfed by tests like the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, yet more people know their Myers-Briggs type than their MMPI. One test just has better branding.

The Meyers-Briggs enjoys popularity, because people are satisfied with their results. This is due to how encompassing each personality type is defined. Of all the traits in the 16 personality types there’s a little something for everyone.

The psychiatric community dismisses the Myers-Briggs as pseudoscience, but if there’s anything the Internet has taught us is that if enough people perpetuate a myth they can start an epidemic. That feeling of truth will persist even when the myth is shown to be false.

As P.T. Barnum actually said, “Exposing an illusion is not the same as revealing a truth.”

The Barnum Effect

In 1948, Bertram R. Forer tried an experiment on his psychology students. He gave his class a personality test and told them he’d use the answers to give each student a thorough psychological profile. Upon receiving their profiles the students were asked to rate their accuracy on a scale of 0-5. The averaged was 4.3. It was only after the ratings were in that Forer revealed his scheme. He’d given everyone identical profiles with affirmations he’d plagiarized from an astrology book he got at a newsstand. The profile read:

1. You have a great need for other people to like and admire you.
2. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself.
3. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage.
4. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them.
5. Your sexual adjustment has presented problems for you.
6. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside.
7. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing.
8. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations.
9. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof.
10. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others.
11. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved.
12. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic.
13. Security is one of your major goals in life.

This phenomenon of people seeing themselves in strategically vague material has been dubbed The Barnum Effect in honor of the deception prone showman.

While Forer used these generalities to trick his students, story-tellers should consider what these items say about the human condition. We’re inclined to see ourselves in horoscopes, in tarot readings, and in the stories written by our friends, because, well, we’re inclined to see ourselves everywhere. We hold on to the highlights that hit home and minimize the misses.

We are so vain, and yes, we do think that song is about us.

The Value of Universal Character Traits

Writers know the value of a blank-slate every person Keanu Reeves-type character for audiences to project themselves onto, the so-called hero with a thousand faces. Writers know that likeable leads tend to be longing, sympathetic, complex individuals with room to grow, you know, like pretty much everyone you know.

Writers know that horoscope truisms make for good characterization short hand. If all of Forer’s 13 profile items apply to your hero then congratulations they’re basically human.

It’s a great feeling when a reader tells you they relate to one of your characters. It’s validating knowing your sense of empathy is compatible with other human beings. If only an understanding of the human condition could get more eyes on the page though.

Well, now writers can make the Barnum Effect work for them.

Convince People You’re Writing about Them

By harnessing the power of social media, social engineering, and sociopathy you can trick your friends, family, and ex-lovers into looking for themselves in your writing. This will boost your Amazon search placement, traffic to your blog, and overall engagement.

Use these 4 easy steps.

1. Become a Stenographer

Subtly plant the seeds that you’re drawing your writing material from the real world. Start with innocuous declarations like, “That’s going in the quote book.” Then get slightly more problematic, “Shhh, I’m mining the Tinder Date behind us for material. That couple is a gold mine.” Then leave your phone on the table with the voice memo application running while you’re in the bathroom.

Pro tip: have hidden camera equipment up in your Amazon cart and leave your browser there whenever you have company.

2. Become a Profiler

Get into the habit of peppering personality test questions into casual conversations.

“Do you prefer to mingle or observe at parties?”
“Do you lean more toward randomness or routine?”
“Are you big on being the center of attention?”

When your friends ask why you’re ask simply respond, “I have an idea for something, but it may be nothing.”

Then escalate your questioning to include questions from Robert D. Hare’s Psychopath checklist.

“Do you have constant need for stimulation?”
“Do you ever think you have a parasitic lifestyle?”
“Do you ever think you display criminal versatility?”

3. Become a Softcover Shit-Talker

You know that friend who talks shit about all of your mutual friends whenever you hang out? You know that sneaking suspicion you get that they talk that shit about you when they’re with those same friends?

Harness that same social suspicion and apply it to your fiction. You can do this by boosting about how you’ve gotten revenge on people who’ve wronged you by dismembering them in your writing.

“The first character the monster feasts on has all of my ex’s mannerisms.”
“The one who loses all his limbs was based on a boss of mine.”
“Oh, and the one who gets eviscerated was an old professor.”

Convince everyone around you that you are petty, vindictive, and cruel and they will comb through your writing looking for references to them.

Now here’s the best part. You can still build your characters from the ground up, with traits based on the needs of your story. Your characters can be as original, colorful, and outlandish as you want.

The Barnum Effect teaches us that you don’t have to draw any inspiration from genuine interactions with others. People are prone to see themselves on the page whether they’re there or not.

4. Become a Topic of Conversation

Once your nearest and dearest have been conditioned to think your writing is about them they’ll make assumptions and pass them along. That gossip is good word of mouth. The more people who feel personally offended the more likely they are to write long winded condemnations of you (and more importantly your book) on social media.

Just remember: There’s no such thing as bad publicity, burning bridges are a sight to see, and you can always lean on plausible deniability if you find yourself in a courtroom setting.

Closing Thoughts

The information age has made it harder than ever for emerging authors to elevate their work from the masses. A truly dedicated writer has to be willing to do whatever it takes, including tricking their friends into thinking their material is about them.

A serious writer will harness the power of the Barnum Effect to build a brand.

We want to believe we’re individuals, that our personal traits aren’t universal. We want to believe we’re diamonds in the rough, unlike all that basic bedrock. We want our individuality to be acknowledged, so much so that we’ll see acknowledgement where it isn’t.

“This Instagram targeted advertisement makes me feel like someone is truly listening.”

“This aura reader sees the shade of burnt sienna I’m desperately trying to show the world.”

“This Buzzfeed quiz peered into my soul… and assigned me to house Gryffindor.”

As a writer it’s your duty to let your friends, family, and ex-lovers feel acknowledged. Let them know that they’re unique creative individuals, just like everyone else.

Continue reading How to Trick People into Reading Your Story By Convincing Them it’s about Them

Gracefully Handle Rejection By Standing Outside a Publisher’s Home in a Clown Mask

Stephen King cut his teeth submitting short fiction to magazines. Legend has it that he hung his rejection letters from a nail in the wall. When the nail couldn’t take the weight he upgraded to a railroad spike, but King kept right on going.
The greatest skills an aspiring author can learn is to handle rejection gracefully.

Most of the time a publisher will send you a form letter that reads “We had so many amazing submissions that unfortunately we couldn’t include everyone in the collection.”

The reason you get a form letter is because you haven’t taken the time to build a relationship with the people you’re submitting to.

Now you could shoot them a “Thank you for the opportunity” e-mail like all the other sad saps desperate for a spot in their rolodex, but if you really want to be remembered you’ll need to show more initiative than that.

I’m not talking about inquiry about the publisher’s need in advance, printing your submissions on pink paper, or sending them fruit baskets. No. I’m talking about showing up on the publisher’s front door in a clown mask.

Leave an Impression that Truly Lasts

Most mid-level publishers aren’t based out of an office. They use a PO BOX to hide the fact that they work from home. So where is that? Well, the post office won’t answer a Boxholder Request Form from just anyone, especially without a subpoena, but a private investigator might have a guy on the inside who could fax them the 1093 form, if you’re willing to grease their wheels.

With the reverse lookup complete you’re going to rent a pair of bounce castles, NOT houses, castles. You’re a creative individual. So it should no problem for you to secure the rental without a paper trail. Use that same creative intelligence to convince the bounce castle employees to block both ends of a residential street without the tenants calling the police. Dress it up as community carnival.

If onlookers ask, “What’s going on here?” play it off like you’re acting on someone else’s behalf. Shrug. You’re just another working stiff on a deadline.

Next you’ll need a pair of 24-40 inch industrial stilts and a pair of stilt trousers to cover them up. These stilts are made for hanging drywall, but you’ll be using them to seem larger than life.

As for the rest of your outfit don’t bog yourself down with too many gaudy accessories. Your instincts might tell you to be on the lookout for: ruffles, polka dotted bowties, and florescent jumpers, but I suggest you shift your gaze toward form fitting formal wear with hyper extended limbs.

Creepypasta-themed urban legends are all the rage in horror forums. What better way to showcase your awareness of genre trends then by dressing as one? Mix and match Jeff the Killer’s long black hair with Slender Man’s thin tie and Eyeless Jack’s hoodie. Even if the publisher isn’t familiar with the characters cultural osmosis should give them an eerie twinge of recognition.

Now you’ll have to choose a mask. You might be drawn to masks with jigsaw grids of gashes, but consider this. You want your mask to feel like a blank canvas, a place for your audience to project their fears onto, not a space that’s already teeming with yellow teeth, stiches, and exposed bone.

Remember these are publishers. The mask shouldn’t tell a story. Your actions should tell a story. A classic hobo clown face should suffice.

Now it’s time to pick a prop. Your prop shouldn’t be a weapon. A weapon is too obvious. It’s like wearing a plastic smock with the name of who you’re supposed to be on the chest. You need to pick a prop that’s both innocuous and menacing: a stainless steel yo-yo that catches the light like the edge of a knife, juggling pins that are large enough to bludgeon, or balloon animals fashioned from condoms. Use your imagination.

From Plan to Execution

Let’s fast forward. You’ve got your bouncing castles blocking traffic. You’re up on your stilts. You’ve got your clown mask, creepypasta costume, and a vaguely menacing prop. Now you’ve got to give the publisher a reason to look out onto the lawn. You could try the old ding dong ditch, but once the publisher opens the door the tension has no room to grow. They see you in all your creepy glory and you either have a confrontation or get the hell off their lawn.

You want to give your target time to dwell on what they’re seeing, to stew in the absurdity of it. If you want to be subtle you can toss a few pebbles at the window, but if you really want to shock a couch potato you can’t go wrong with an airhorn.

An airhorn will draw onlookers. That’s why it’s important to research the average response time of local law enforcement. Bounce castles aren’t going to a hold squad cars back for very long.

That said, give the publisher a moment to drink you in. Let the alien shape of your carnival attire burn into their vision. Wait for them to back away from their blinds and move in. Don’t worry if they do a double take, just freeze and red-light-green-light your way across the lawn as needed.

Be Remembered for Your Work

Before we go any further it’s important to note that, yes, you will breaking and entering. Now the internet is full of helpful tips on picking locks with canned air and bobby pins, but we’re going to need to play this faster and looser. That’s why you’ll need a mallet for the knob, and a hunting knife for the deadbolt. Badda-bing badda-boom.

Disclaimer: once you’re an intruder anything the publisher does to you is nice and legal. So don’t go barreling through the front door. Leave it hanging open it in a maddening silence.

Ditch the stilts and creep around back. If there’s a screen door on the porch you’re one clean slice away from your destination. From here you’ll need two final items: a Jack-in-the-box on a timer, and a manuscript about a publisher who is convinced there’s a clown is living in their walls, a clown that comes out at night to stand at the foot of their bed and watch them sleep.

With the payload secure it’s time to haul ass out of there. Now I’ll leave the getaway plan to your better judgement: have Uber on standby, a crotch rocket hidden in the bushes, a hot air balloon waiting in the park. Again use your imagination.

What matters is that you’re leaving a lasting impression on an industry professional and what better way to wow a publisher than to haunt their dreams forever? Every time their house settles, or a rat scratches at their walls they’ll be thinking of you. Every time they shoot up in the dead of night and struggle to find a light that’s you too. Every time they freeze in front of a dark crawl space, drawstring attic, or cellar door you’ll be waiting there.

You will evoke a powerful emotional response, and isn’t that all any author can really ask for?

Continue reading Gracefully Handle Rejection By Standing Outside a Publisher’s Home in a Clown Mask

Monster Mingle: Meet Daisy Diode

Welcome to Monster Mingle, a place where urban legends find romance, where full moons lead to fuller hearts, and all the thirsty singles have fangs. This is how it works: illustrator Bryan Politte creates the characters and I (Drew Chial horror author) give them a backstory.

Meet Daisy Diode. She’s a self-made woman on a mission to find the perfect connection. She’s searching for love in the clouds, or the cloud to be more precise. She’s got the tools to brute force her way into your heart, just look out for malware while she’s in there.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

About Me

I never met Phoebe Gage, but based on her social media profiles she seemed like a bright young woman with a promising future.

At fifteen she volunteered at the East River Animal Shelter, driving up adoptions by posting dating profiles for the dogs. Gatsby likes long walks through Central Park, snuggling at sunset, and jazz age literature.

At sixteen she ran for class president with the slogan The arts and sciences deserve a pep rally too. The theme of her graduation speech was a future she’d never know, challenges she’d never face, and systems that would ultimately destroy her.

I followed Phoebe’s digital footprints from the quiet halls of Butler Library to the hyper-ways beneath the city. From Gallery openings in the Village to the subterranean speakeasies. I went to the boardwalk where Phoebe snapped her first selfie with her then boyfriend Lucas. I stood in the exact same spot, watched the sunset over the same ocean, and felt no connection.

Phoebe loved marine life. She aspired to write the environmental exposé that would save the cephalopods, but as a journalism major she had to write stories about campus life. She didn’t mind. She relished in interviewing the colorful characters in the beekeeping department. She was a social butterfly after all.

Me, I like to be left to my own devices. My DIY approach to therapy has been buggy. I’m struggling with kind a survivor’s guilt that professionals have yet to label. I call it my Phoebe Gage sized hole.

Genetically Phoebe and I are the same person, but Phoebe died of a traumatic brain injury on December 31th 2129. All of her father’s engineers and all of her father’s neurosurgeons couldn’t put young Phoebe back together again. On New Year’s Day 2130 Daisy Diode was born.

I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a soul. If there were only part of mine exits in my actual head. The rest resides in the craniofacial processor that bridges my neuropathways and holds my skull together.

Phoebe seemed like a good person, an optimist who thought she could change the system from within. I wish I was more like her, but that part of my frontal lobe is gone, and she is a phantom to me.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

Life Changing Event

I have scrolled through Phoebe’s timeline, sifted through her final posts, and scrutinized her every last geotag. I took a series of ad-sponsored taxis across the city. I started on campus in Greenwich and ended on the dock in Brooklyn Heights where she was discovered. I tried to jog my memory, but the defining jingles and animations on the windows stole my attention.

It wasn’t until I’d made my third pilgrimage to docks that I thought to check another location.

A fire truck and autonomous ambulance had been dispatched to the harbor at the sound of the explosion. If the ambulance had triggered its STRAIGHT SHOTprotocol every vehicle on the road would’ve pulled over. Phoebe would’ve been in neurosurgery within thirty seconds. Not three minutes.

The extent of Phoebe’s hematoma proves the ambulance took a detour. During that time someone accessed her phone.

Now Joseph Gage had his personal neurosurgeons and prosthetists flown in. It took them four hours to install their implants. I didn’t come online for another six, during that time someone wiped Phoebe’s cloud accounts.

When I logged on as Phoebe I scanned her references files and attempted to run a recovery script. My neural interface should’ve been up to the task, but I kept seeing the same message: You don’t have permission to access this script.

It turned out I didn’t have administrator access to my own implant.

That’s when I started noticing visual artifacts at the edge of my vision. I saw a strange pixilation whenever I so much as thought about running that script again. Someone was watching, logging every notion that crossed my mind.

I couldn’t live with someone reading my thoughts over my shoulder. I had to break free, but how do you outwit someone who can see what you’re thinking in real time? You order something that will damper their ability to do so and hope it gets there before they do.

The delivery drone landed on the roof of my apartment just as the S.W.A.T. team surrounded the building.

I tore the package open and wrapped the Faraday Fabric around my head like a turban. There was a tingling in my ankle, my arm went dead, and I collapsed. The words LOST CONNECTION…blinked across my vision. A battering ram gonged against the roof access door. Somehow I found the strength to fix my gaze on the option that read WORK OFFLINE.

When my prosthesis rebooted I leapt off the roof, dug into the brownstone bricks, and slid all the way down to the sidewalk. I ducked into a maintenance hole, ran through sewers until I came to an old subway line. I followed it through the darkness to an old station filled with train car shanties and storage crate homes. I hid amongst the hacktivists, the fiber foragers, and the flat-backers.

This is where I set out to replace my prosthetics.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

My Hobbies and Interests

In an age when everyone is trying to prolong their lifespan augmentations are more traceable than hand guns. Every chrome cranium has a subdermal serial number. Every bio-battery is branded, and every wire is watermarked.

Now the problem with black market body mods is where do you go for maintenance when the seller gets pinched? If I wanted to swap my parts I’d have to go back to the source, but how would I get into Gage Industries unnoticed?

I became an Olympic-Caliber dumpster diver, scrapping DNA from kitchen utensils, copying fingerprints from coffee cups, and synthesizing vocal vibrations from used rations.

I covered my implants in latex, lined a wig with faraday fabric, and waltzed right through the front door. I delivered linguine to the lobby, minestrone to the mail room, and tortellini to the testing facility.

I installed retina spoofers in the elevators, face scanners in the bathroom mirrors, and breath print readers in the flowers.

When I was satisfied I’d collected enough biometric material I 3D printed Joseph Gage’s likeness: a forehead appliance with a receding hairline, a pair of jowls, and a butt chin. Then I overlaid his irises onto contacts, swallowed a voice synthesizer, and rehearsed his favorite phrases in the mirror.

“You don’t need two hands to eat. It’s crunch time.”

“You know everyone at your level is replaceable.”

“Your predecessor did that twice as fast.”

I picked up Joseph’s dry-cleaning and padded his suit until it fit. I ran his movements through an algorithm until I could emulate his gait. The man had a walk liked he’d just dismounted an elephant.

It took more finesse to get the chloroform into his protein shake than it did to trespass into his office. I just ambled in, with his pleated pants riding my ribs, and blew through all his biometric safeguards. Then I took his personal elevator to his private server and cloned everything I could get my hands on.

I was going to go down to storage and take the implants I needed over a longer period of time, but then it occurred to me to just go for the designs specs all at once.

The off brand assembly line equipment proved easier to acquire. I used it to manufacture clean gear for myself and everyone else in my nether neighborhood. Little did I know how badly we’d need it.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

My Intimate Details

Being ambidextrous is easy with my implants in. Not so much when I’m making alterations. I had to train myself to do them left handed. I pulled it off with all the grace of stroke victim, but  little by little I managed to swap systems.

When I was done I copied Joseph Gage’s corporate secrets into my memory banks. I’m not sure if it was my subconscious, or an indexing subroutine, but something about that data weighed heavy on me.

That night I dreamt I was meeting someone at the shipping docks. The ocean echoed off the crates. The automated employees were watching the horizon, waiting for a ship to come in. There was a woman pacing beneath a street lamp, rubbing her shoulders, checking her phone. She ducked into a trench coat, like a child playing at spy games. I didn’t need four quadrants of facial recognition to recognize Phoebe Gage when I saw her.

I neared.

She said, “The arc of the moral universe is long.”

“But it bends toward justice.” I finished the passphrase.

Time slowed as Phoebe’s eyes lit with embers. Her hair blew back, her cheeks filled with air, and her skin glowed orange. Then she was off her feet, flying across the peer in a shower of debris.

When I booted up that morning it felt like I’d been decrypted. Phoebe Gage, with her love of karaoke and breakfast pastries, was still a mystery to me, but I knew what had happened to her.

There was something about the whistleblower Phoebe had gone to meet. They weren’t human. Someone had overlaid the shell of a real doll onto a bipedal skeleton with enhanced modular movements. It would’ve looked human from across the street, but up close it’d have looked plasticine and disturbing.

My dream was an encrypted recording from this machine. Someone had planted it on Joseph Gage’s private server. I believe the whistleblower hid it for forensic investigators to find later. Its placement would lead them to a treasure trove of information on something called Project Razor Blade.

The pieces were falling into place.

Phoebe had been interning at a publication known for uncovering corporate wrongdoing. The whistleblower must’ve reached out to her through an untraceable channel: carrier pigeon, singing telegram, or something ancient like the postal system. The whistleblower must’ve assumed Phoebe’s relationship with her father would’ve have protected her from retaliation. Phoebe must’ve assumed the same thing.

While Phoebe’s source had gone to great lengths to ensure they weren’t followed Phoebe had not.

A drone, flying beyond the visual line of sight, had followed Phoebe to the docks. When her informant stepped out of the shadows the drone dropped its payload. Joseph Gage hadn’t meant to hurt his daughter, but he miscalculated the blast radius and gave her a total makeover.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

Physical features

My body isn’t a temple so much it’s a restoration. Phoebe took a lot of shrapnel on her way across the peer. I have a patchwork of gnarly scars. I buried most of my trauma tattoos beneath circuit boards and sea monsters. Put a daisy where a cheek stain had been, and turned the circle around my orbital into a pentagram.

I wear a 250-gigapixel ocular prosthesis modeled after the unreleased Oden’s Eye prototype. I like it because it lets me see the peaks and valleys across the lunar surface, and spot any virtual vultures that might be flying overhead.

When I’m not infiltrating corporate headquarters I leave the flesh toned gloves and latex appliances at home. Down here amongst the deck jockeys and body bankers I let my manufactured freak flag fly.

But not all of these augmentations are upgrades. I wake with bloody fingers from having scratched my gunmetal shoulder. I feel this tingling in my missing limbs. I get phantom pains in my pegleg when I try to dance, and I can’t swim without sinking.

That said, I’m not some hobbyist biohacker filling my flesh with wetware. I need my neural-bridge to live, and I’m not the only one. Cancer deaths have been declining for decades, but rates are on the rise. Artificialcerebellums, livers, and lungs are a big business.

It would be a shame if someone did for augments what the shaving industry did for razors (i.e. built them to break so they could sell more). If one corporation had the augment market cornered they could implement a planned obsolescence that could cripple millions.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

My Perfect Match

I’d love to date a hard bodied edge runner with an open mind about chrome in the bedroom. But… I’ll settle for the whistleblower I created this profile to uncover.

Right now Joseph Gage’s drones are sweeping Manhattan looking for signs of his daughter. They’re not checking dating forums. I suspect you are. I suspect you’re drawn to the mere mention of Project Razor Blade. I also suspect you’re an artificial intelligence, one who is motivated by something other than profit margins.

I base this theory on the script buried in Joseph Gage’s files. It was too elegant to have been crafted by an organic mind. There was no junk code, no buffer overflow, no expired pointers. It was as sophisticated and succinct as a seashell, like it had evolved from within the digital realm.

If my theory is correct, and you truly are an altruisticautomaton, we need to meet again.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

My ideal date

You can name the time. You can name the place, just somewhere private where it won’t be raining warheads.

I know you have no reason to trust me. I’m not even the same woman you reached out to in the first place. Still, we need each other.

You need me to infiltrate my father’s data center and I need your code to drive the final nail into his coffin.

We have mere months before Project Razor Blade goes into effect. Millions of augments will break down. Pancreatic implants will pause and diabetics everywhere will go into seizures. Congenital heart disease patients will go into arrest, and paraplegics will fall to floor.

Powerful lobbies and sweeping deregulation protect Gage Industries from malpractice claims. You and I are the only ones standing between my father and an augmentation apocalypse.

So please, Whistleblower, put your lips together and give me a sign.

Continue reading Monster Mingle: Meet Daisy Diode