I’m thrilled to have a new post up on Writer Unboxed: What is a Natural Storyteller? The answer is . . . your very own brain. Check out the four ways to pick your brain for storytelling tips. And, for more on how to harness your brain’s natural storytelling ability when it comes to writing a story, I’ve recently done a two hour video tutorial for the amazing tech website, Lynda.com. It’s called “Writing Fundamentals: The Craft of Story.” Click here for a taste, and for a free 7 day trial at Lynda.com. But beware, once you start trolling the site, you’ll find it’s addictive – not to mention full of insanely useful info that just might change your life (how often do you get to say that and mean it!).
Meanwhile, I bet you're curious about the photo at the top of this post -- clearly it has nothing to do with Writer Unboxed or Lynda.com. So, without further ado, let’s talk story for a minute. Or better yet, watch one – a commercial for Jetta.
An ad, you might say? But we’re writers, and not Mad Men. Ah yes, but advertisers turn out to be some of the best storytellers around, because they know the secret: the brain is wired to instantly respond to story in a way that facts, details, data and concepts can’t even touch.
The reason I’m suggesting you watch this particular commercial is not just because it’s a great story, but because it is perfect example of how to use a “reveal.”
So, before I say more, take a minute and watch it. As you do, pay particular attention to the story you’re telling yourself as it unfolds (there hardly a word in it . . .). Spoiler alert: don’t read forward until you’ve seen it.
Okay . . . lalalalalalala. I’m protecting you, ‘cause I know that our hardwired response to being told not to do something is to, um, do it. So chances are whether you wanted to or not, you glanced down at this paragraph before clicking on the link. Now for the spoiler . . .
. . . so, did you notice that when you watched the commercial you were sure that this guy was late for his own wedding? Everyone was worried. He was panicked. But there was probably a teeny tiny niggling voice in the back of your mind whispering, Why is he so far from his own wedding? Why doesn’t he just call and say he’s late? Why does everyone at the church look SO unhappy? And when he pulls up, hey, why is he going into the front of the church, wouldn’t there be a side entrance for the groom? I’m not saying you thought these things consciously, but that you felt them, like pebbles in your shoe.
To see exactly what I mean, watch the commercial again. See how really unhappy and wistful the bride looks? This time when she glances out the window, you know she’s not looking for her groom, but to be rescued.
In other words, the “tells” that all is not as it seems were there from the beginning. What hooked us the first time is that we were dying to know if the guy would get to the wedding in time. Why is he late, we wondered? What happened? In other words, we thought knew where this was going. But did you notice how delicious the surprise at the end was? It didn’t feel tacked on, or unbelievable, in fact, it felt more believable than the story we’d been telling ourselves. Talk about a well earned “reveal” that changes everything!
The point is that the “tells” told one believable story going in, and another – slightly more believable story -- in hindsight.
When you’re writing that’s the goal. Let us know something is amiss, so we can start to try to fill in the blanks. Don’t keep the “reveal” so hidden that when it comes, because there was no foreshadowing, there’s nothing for us to look back at and go, “of course!” After all, the pleasure of reading is trying to figure out what’s actually going on, the better to anticipate what will happen next. And when that commercial ended, didn’t you wonder exactly that? Is she going to marry Dustin Hoffman, uh, I mean the guy who burst into the church?
What does this have to do with selling Jettas? Good question. My guess is twofold: First, that wonderfully satisfying jolt at the end is something that will stick with us, it was visceral. Second, since we always root for the underdog – the guy who saves the day – we’ll associate the car with something we can trust to get us where we need to be in the nick of time.
But will we remember all that consciously the next time we’re in the market for a car? Probably not. Which isn’t to say that when we gaze at the Jetta a sensation of confidence, safety and daring might not well up inside. But that’s another story.