What I Learned from The Sea Wolf

One of the writers who deeply affected me growing up was Jack London. He's probably most famous for the book The Call of the Wild. But he wrote over 50 books. Some of them nonfiction. A few autobiographical. But by far most of them were great works of fiction. One of my favorites is The Sea Wolf.

One thing I learned from Jack London is to never . . .

Before I explain what I learned, let me point out that Jack London was a powerhouse writer. He wrote adventure tales packed with energy, conflict, and character. Whether the lead character was a person or an animal, you could always identify with them.

In The Sea Wolf, the lead character is the captain, called the sea wolf. He's mad. He's insane. And he's driving our narrator and everyone else batty as well.

But you get to know the captain through the book. You learn he's smart, well read, articulate, and a bit of a testosterone freak. But what could you expect when he came from the mind of Jack London, one of America's most popular he-man authors of the early part of the 1900s?

London himself was a sailor. He had spent time on the sea,

What I Learned from The Sea Wolf owned boats, wrote of his travels, and lived life to its fullest. One of my favorite quotes is this:

I would rather be ashes than dust!

I would rather that my ashes should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot.

I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of a man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.

—Jack London

No wonder he was dead by the age of 40. He lived a hard, active, wild life, and regretted none of it.

You can imagine my thrill when I went to the Jack London Ranch outside San Francisco at the end of 2000. I went to San Francisco to be interviewed on a new television show. While there, I rented a car and headed out to Jack London country.

I went to his famous home, too, called Wolf Mansion. I walked around what was left of it anyway. It had burned nearly completely to the ground before London ever got to move into it.

And I went to London's grave. He was cremated and put under one of the giant volcanic red boulders on his property.

I also went inside a museum on the property, now part of the California parks system, and saw an old movie with Jack London in it. It was, of course, a black and white film, a silent one, but Jack London's smile lit up the frames. It was incredible to see this hero of mine so obviously alive, to realize he had indeed once lived and walked the earth, just like you or me.

What I learned from Jack London's writing, and especially from The Sea Wolf, was to keep readers hooked by not giving them an ending to something you know they wanted to see resolved.

In other words, many of London's chapters end right when new conflict bubbles up. You have no recourse but to keep reading in order to resolve the tension London has created.

In essence, he has hypnotized you to keep reading.

I did the same thing at the beginning of this chapter.

When I said, "One thing I learned from Jack London is to never . . . ," I was setting you up for a lockdown in this chapter.

In short, I held your attention by not resolving the statement I had begun and had bet you wanted to hear the ending of.

And that's a secret to creating Hypnotic Selling Stories.

You have to keep your readers or listeners engaged. One way to do that is to tell them you're about to say something important— and then go into a new subject, with the promise that you'll return to the original one in a minute.

Believe me, it works every time.

It got you to read this entire chapter, didn't it?

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