I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about the nature of persuasive arguments. One of the best ways to befuddle readers (in a good way) in a mystery is to persuade them that a red herring is the truth. Writing narrative and dialogue that persuades is more complex than merely sounding passionate or having logic on your side.

Certainly, one needs well-framed and well-developed content and a convincing-sounding argument—after all, people aren’t stupid. But that´s all theory… in order to write persuasively, I needed to understand more about the structure of persuasion. I developed the Matrix of Persuasion to help me analyze the underpinnings of believability.

You’ll notice that across the top I´m contrasting two variables: are people “on your side”? Or not? On the left, I´m considering whether people have the resources they need to do as my character is asking. Are they constrained? Or not?

As an aside, I´ll mention that while I´m presenting the matrix to you as black and white—people either are constrained or they aren´t—it´s not that simple. There´s degrees. Someone might have the money to do as your character asks, but not the time, for instance. Likewise on the variables of whether they´re on your side or not—they may know your character only a little bit. I think of the matrix as a bit amorphous—more gray than black and white.

By identifying which of the four quadrants your persuasion challenge fits into, you´ll be better able to identify how your character should approach the task.

As you review the matrix, note that you´re first asked to determine if your target readers are “On your side” or “Not on your side.” Think about the people your character is trying to persuade. Do they know one another? Do they like each other? Are they predisposed to help one another? Or not?

Next, consider whether they´re capable of doing as your character asks, or are they constrained? Do they have the requisite time, authority, interest, motivation, money, or whatever resources are needed to do what your character is hoping they will do? Or are there constraints that your character needs to help them overcome?

The implications are expressed as bullet points within each quadrant. For instance, doesn´t it make sense that if your character is trying to persuade someone to do something they´re capable of doing, it´s an easier persuasion task than trying to persuade someone to do something when they don´t even know who your they are? In that case, first your character has to educate them as to why they should believe what he or she says. If you do it well, you can befuddle readers in a tightly crafted mystery plot and create irresistible dramatic tension.

The Matrix of Persuasion is a “big-picture” tool. It will help you plan, then write exposition and dialogue so that your characters successfully persuade readers to believe their stories, see the world from their perspectives, and repeat their tales with conviction.