I told myself I am not going to write about Corvid19, quarantining, masks, six feet of distance or the improbably exotic recipes popping up in my in-box (sheesh, they sound like neurosurgery). Do I have anything other than what’s top of all our minds to share? With relief, I realize I do.
My current project is editing a non-fiction manuscript written by a gentleman who has a national, well-respected reputation as a consultant and researcher to advertising agencies. He tests and provides direction for successful ads. He is doing a book on memory. Not his remembrances of things past, but how memory works with firing neurons and synapsis and all the physiological doo dads whirring around in our brains and how that leads to building different types of memories. (After all, the manufacturer does want her snack food/disposable razor/perfume/car to always be the strongest memory, always top of the consumer’s mind.)
My client bases his approach to successful ads on the structure of storytelling as that innate human characteristic is ultimately what drives communication—this is something the Slice of Orange community knows quite a bit about so it is fascinating to see the storyteller’s principles applied to something as work-a-day as marketing. He uses the work of neuroscientists, philosophers, script writers, cartoonists and psychiatrists to back up the idea that human speech developed from the need to communicate a story – gossip.
Okay. I don’t quibble because I know that storytelling is fundamental to every human I’ve ever met. It’s the good storytellers, the writers, who touch us the most deeply; those are the stories that are memorable. What the good storyteller knows—the arc of inciting incident to climax to resolution, and all the beats and color and emotion and drama that get the story to those points—is also fundamental to good advertising. And that is linked to how our brains make memories.
I consider the ads that stick in my memory. Some of these are really long-term memories, coming from childhood—does anyone ever forget Speedy Gonzales or Tony the Tiger? They’re complete, miniature stories and I’ve retained the high points. “Where’s the Beef” had all the emotional beats of a 350 page novel and whether or not I consciously made the connection, I had Wendy’s top of mind for my beef fix. It was impossible to see a giant choir of fresh-faced kids singing I’d Like To Teach the World to Sing without thinking of Coca Cola and hearing a million different emotion charged stories. All of those marketing moments—and more—hit an emotional note that became an indelible memory. Wow! Good story telling is magical.
This new perspective, with its emphasis on memory and the potency of storytelling, will be top of mind for me on my next fiction project. I don’t know that it will change how I look at the content of a story or the effectiveness of the structure and style. I’m not sure it will effect how I edit the manuscript but it’s refreshing to learn that the things good writer’s know instinctively can be measured and diagramed and graphed and applied to any creative endeavor.
There is one sticking point, however. I remain unconvinced that language developed from an irresistible urge to gossip. Putting myself in caveman days I prefer to think our species began talking because of an irresistible urge to warn me of the saber-tooth tiger leering at me from the cliff above. It’d clearly be time to run—and that’s a story.
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