What Yamato Drummers Can Teach us About Writing

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Yesterday evening I watched 8 sweaty Japanese people run around whacking things as hard as they could… It was glorious.

The Yamato Drummers are a group of Japanese drummers who deliver incredibly well choreographed, thought out, and exciting performances. While watching, I was so taken in by the events unfolding that I forgotwhoand where I was. My imagination, attention and passion had been taken from me and put into the hands of a bunch of muscular, crazy looking men and women who make a living out of hitting bits of stretched dead cow with dead tree, and I was okay with that. The only thing that woke me from the trance what one thought:

“This is just what writing is about. Not writing books, or emails, or websites. Writing. Capture attention, gain the readers trust, surprise them, make them laugh, then force them to interact/feedback/action what they’ve just read”

These steps also play into the “Monomyth”/Hero’s Journey structure quite well, you’ll see as we go.

Trust - Key to successful performance / writing

Trust is important.
Without trust, the Yamato audience would have subconsciously tuned out, as a way of protecting themselves from the coming unpredictability and awkwardness. During the performance, there were many extended points of relative silence. Without the trust they’d gained, it would have been incredibly awkward for the audience, but because we knew they were not only good, but GREAT, we knew that something amazing was coming. Instead of tension, there was intrigue. 

At the same time, because we knew:

A) They are amazing


B) They are fully capable of filling the silence

We knew that they had DECIDED to put silence in there. Here’s the key thing, convincing the audience that every action is deliberate, convincing the audience that you know best (which they did).

The only thing that’s going to keep someone coming back to a book, an author, or even a blog, is trust that it’s going to be good. People trust that anything J.K.Rowling writes is going to be pretty good. She’s already proven that she’s not only capable, but she is consistently great.

Note that it’s not predictability. Not trust that we already know what they’re going to say - that’s incredibly boring. It’s trust that they DO know better than us and will surprise us as consumers of their content.

Many of you have probably never heard of Ramit Sethi. He runs, among others. He basically coaches people to run a business. He uses these exact tactics to great effect, I’m going to use his daily email subject lines to illustrate the stages.

The 7 stages to gaining an audience’s trust:

  1. Set expectations

    The key thing here is that people are clear about what they’re going to get, the baseline.

    Ramit: “Straight truth about starting an online business”
    This is explaining what we’re signing up for. It doesn’t pretend to be nice and smiley, it is candid and blunt.
    He does this to weed out the people who aren’t going to follow through. Those who will only waste time.
    Drummers: It’s all about showing how the show is going to pan out:

    There will be comedy
    There will be lots of loud noises
    There will be no speech
    There will be a lot of stage lighting
    For novelists, we can look at the Monomyth structure, where the first elements are:
    “Call to adventure”
    • In this stage, we can set the scene and the characters up.
    • Which characters do we care about?
    • Where are they, what’s the adventure?

    “Refusal of the call”
    • We highlight the character's flaws, they refuse because they’re timid, or don’t care, etc.
    • What happens? Who does it affect?

    The important part is that this happens straight away, before the consumer starts consuming heavily, we need to reduce the anxiousness caused by something new:
    • The drummers opened with something less spectacular than the rest of the show, so they could set the tone before going mental.
    • Ramit send his “Straight truth about starting an online business” as the very first email I see from him. This sends the signals of honesty and having a genuine guide.
  2. Intrigue

    Now we’ve got trust, we need a “hook”, something to draw people in.
    Ramit: “6 best ways to earn money online: Which one is right for you?”
    The difficulty with building intrigue is balancing it with the expectations we’ve just set. 
    Ramit’s first email was a “push”, or a “you might not want to do this”, then his second one was a “pull”, a “come closer so I can tell you a secret”.
    Drummers: After setting the scene, they surprised us, by having a short, personal solo with the curtain down so they could re-shuffle the stage.
    The intrigue from the drummers came in two ways.
    • First of all, we wanted to know what was happening behind the curtain that took so long they needed an entire solo to keep us distracted
    • Then we wanted to know “why THIS guy?” They’re all so great, so why is it that this one is doing the first solo? 
    The next stages in the Monomyth structure are:
    “Super Natural Aid”
    • Something new and exciting we don’t know about yet.
    • Who’s this new character that’s doing all these weird things
    • Why does the main character do what they’re told
    • How does this effect the picture I already had of the situation?

    “Crossing of the threshold”
    • Where are we?
    • What’s this universe?
    • What might happen?
    • Is this scary or exciting?

    Making sure you don’t break the trust you’ve already got:
    • Don’t contradict your expectations
    • Start simple, you’ll be throwing bigger surprises at them later, but start with a small, low risk one first.
    • Make it pay off in buckets
  3. Offer a quick win

    We want a quick win so that in the future, the audience is more willing to wait for the intrigue to pay off. This is how we get people to continue the whole way through, not give up when it gets slow “what if something exciting happens on the next page?"
    Ramit: “How to conquer self-sabotage”
    This to me means “Step by step guide to fix something that is stopping you from achieving”. I want that! I want to achieve, tell me how!

    Drummers: Just after the first intrigue, we got an incredible show of colour, movement, and noise even before they lifted the curtain.
    They didn’t contradict anything they’d previously show us, they just showed us a small surprise, then when we realised it wasn’t just so they could close the curtain, but leading into an entire act, the surprise paid off. 

    From then onwards, we were happy to trust any surprise they threw our way.
    “Belly of the Whale”
    This stage isn’t about more trials, it’s about a final commitment from the character to continue on this journey. They’ve agreed to be here and anything that happens from now is on them.
    From Wikipedia:
    “The belly of the whale represents the final separation from the hero’s know world and self. By entering this stage, the person shows willingness to undergo a metamorphosis"

    This is a win for the audience, the character does what they’ve been hoping for and makes the plunge.
  4. Stack the intrigue

    This is where we start to add more intrigue to the audience, from now onwards, we pretty much always need something substantial to keep people engaged and on the edge of their seat.
    Ramit: “The Zig/Zag technique to finding a business idea”
    This is building up to what the course is about, it’s the first question in what we know will be a long 4 week chain of questions we have to ask, answer, and act on. It it a hint of what’s to come.
    Drummers: More Changes to the Status Quo
    At this point, the 2 women have-at for the first time, after a predominantly masculine performance. This has a very different type of showmanship - they’re standing very still, rather than jumping about.
    This is about proving they’re not just one-trick ponies, but adds an extra dimension to the performance.

    “The road of trials”
    Here we’re bringing in a long set of ’trials’. This is makes stacking intrigue really easy, because we’ve an excuse to keep bringing in more challenges. This part can overlap with the next stages quite often, as a nice way to keep the audience guessing.
  5. Pay off

    This is where we start to reward the audience for the intrigue. This is the excitement, the drama, the content. This is what you’re here for. Do it, and do it well, without this, all you’ll have is a treasure chest full of coal, full of promise on the outside, but boring and dull on the inside.
  6. Rinse and repeat

    Your job is now to balance the content with intrigue. It’s a cycle of asking and answering questions, challenging and exceeding expectations, disadvantaging and advantaging.

    Be sure to engage the audience, you should be asking them to think about/take action on everything. 

    Novels need philosophical/moral questions
    Non-fiction need actionable points and instructions
    Performances need audience participation

    These e-mail subjects are such a great example of this:
    • Win: "Fwd: You just got paid $4.95"
    • Intrigue: "$15,000 in a single day - how did this happen?"
    • Win: "Real success stories from TINY businesses"
    • Intrigue: "Weird and interesting stories from my first $600,000 launch"
    The drummers had lots of 5-minute mini performances with the curtain down. One with hand held cymbals (my personal favourite), where there was a lot of back and forth between them and the audience.
    It made sure we were all paying attention, and got us all engaged. Somehow they managed to get a theatre full of brits clapping, whooping, and laughing out loud, only half way in! That’s no easy feat.

    There are a lot of stages to the Monomyth, but let’s see if you can label them all correctly, there will be Wins and Intrigues constantly

  7. Finalé

    This is it! The moment we’ve been waiting for. This is where we deliver the punch line. What is it that we’ve been building up to?

    For bloggers it might be to get the reader to enter their email address, for authors it might be to get the reader to buy the next book, for performers, it’s to go out with a bang, one that the audience will remember forever.

Speaking of, I’d love it if you were to sign up to my email list!

Also, if you think any of this is great or rubbish, shout out to me on Twitter (@jreeve0)