Aurora Borealis - USAF, Joshua Strang

Truth Flies in the Ointment

“Huge Solar Storm set to slam Earth tomorrow!” Daily Mail online

During the last week, as I write, the above was just one headline warning of imminent disaster at the approach of a great solar storm which would cause all kinds of disruption: to radio communications including cellphones; to satellites, including the GPS system; to our electricity supply networks, causing power cuts -  oh, and there’d be terrific displays of the Northern Lights, right down to northern England.

Now, it’s certainly true that space weather can do these things. Solar storms regularly affect satellites and have caused major power outages by creating surges in the electricity distribution system.

But not this time. In amongst the sensational headlines I found a single mention that the story might not actually be particularly true. There wasn’t a massive solar storm on its way. So I did a bit of my own research (at spaceweather.com) and discovered that there was indeed the possibility of the lowest level of solar storm (G1), but it wasn’t one that would disturb anything at all very much.

As it happens, there was a fairly strong solar wind, which caused some beautiful auroral displays, but no accompanying geomagnetic disruption. There weren’t even any sunspots during the week. None at all.

So, fake news.

Well, in a way. But this was something different. There was no intent to deceive, just over-enthusiasm as one news source after another seized on what seemed like a good story and spread the untruth around the planet, believing it to be true. Another proof of the old saw, “A lie can be halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on.”.

But that isn’t quite my point.

The thing is, the story promising impending disaster spread more widely and more rapidly, because people (including the news sources themselves) wanted it to be true.

So if you want your readers to pick up your work, keep reading it, and tell all their friends and relatives about it, you need to tell them something they want to hear. That doesn’t mean you should tell only happy stories (after all, my example is a disaster scenario); but you have to set them alight with an idea. Spark a “what if” reaction in them.

Grab the imagination.

Once you’ve grabbed them by the imagination, you can do anything with them.

Photo credit: United States Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Strang - This Image was released by the United States Air Force with the ID 050118-F-3488S-003 This image or file is a work of a U.S. Air Force Airman or employee, taken or made as part of that person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image or file is in the public domain in the United States.

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