In the August 2009 issue of Psychology today, Jonah Lehrer reveals some interesting things about the human mind. At first glance, his revelations seem to apply only to the visual arts but take his suggestions a step further and it’s easy to see the application to the written word.
Picasso once said, “Art is the lie that reveals the truth.” He didn’t know it at the time but the scientific reality is that the part of the brain involved in facial recognition responds more eagerly to caricatures than to real pictures. The phenomenon is called “Peak Shift”. In fact, John Lehrer lists 10 perceptual principles of great art. Here are the other nine.
- Grouping – The brain loves a good pattern.
- Balance – Good art makes use of the entire canvass.
- Contrast –The brain likes thick outlines and sharp contrasts.
- Isolation – The brain likes reality reduced to it’s most basic features.
- Perceptual Problem Solving –The brain loves to interpret the abstract.
- Symmetry –Symmetrical things are more appealing than asymmetrical.
- Repetition, Rhythm, Orderliness – Beauty is inseparable from order.
- Generic Perspective –The brain prefers things that can be observed from multiple viewpoints.
- Metaphor – Encourages the brain to view the world In a new way.
Clearly, these revelations are as important for the written word as for visual art. Take Stephanie Meyer for example. The character of Edward in Twilight won over millions of readers. Her writing isn’t superior for it’s grammar or craft. It is not overly creative. But, Meyer’s ability to tap into the instinctual desires of the female brain make it impossible for women to put her book down. Edward is stronger than strong, the ultimate protector, smart, rich, doesn’t need to sleep, lives forever, always smells great, and his whole world revolves around his woman, Bella. Whether she knew it or not, Stephanie Meyer was tapping into the instinctual part of the woman’s brain, wired to search for the ultimate provider and protector.
What features does your character or story have that will connect with the human psyche? I believe a book doesn’t necessarily need to be "perfect" to sell. It just has to push the right mental buttons.