As you pass by an alley on your way to the drugstore, a woman with a face like a dried apricot approaches you from the shadows. Her eyes are squinted so tightly, you’re amazed that she can see at all, but she aims a knobby finger directly at you, and a voice like tires on gravel announces that you have magical powers. You can draw little black marks on paper, she says, and when other people see these marks, their minds are filled with new images, feelings, and ideas.
With years of training and practice, you can hone this natural ability into a powerful weapon—so potent, it could change the world.
Minus the creepy old woman, this scenario is 100% true. Language is a form of mind control. In a way, it’s easy; I can write “mouse in overalls,” and the image will automatically pop into your head. But it’s more complicated than that; did you picture a mouse poking its head out of a farmer’s overall pocket, or did you picture a mouse actually wearing a pair of miniature overalls? You must choose the right words, and combine them in just the right way, for the magic to work.
Plus, in order to plant things in people’s minds, you have to get them to read your stuff—which will be difficult if it is boring or badly written. That’s where the training and practice comes in. The more accomplished you are at showing, not telling, through your writing, the more interesting the story, and the more relatable the characters—the more influence you have over your readers. And, like any power, you can use it for good or evil. Will you teach ideas that improve the world, or make it worse? Bring happiness, or pain? Inspire hope, or despair?
It’s your choice, oh powerful one.