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Memory-Tapping

There are few elements more powerful in storytelling than tapping into the collected memories of an audience.  It creates an instant affinity with what you are saying.  Assuming that you do not follow-up with a statement that generates a strong emotionally negative response, your audience will be with you.

Best of all, your audience doesn’t need to share all of the elements of a specific memory.  If it is one to which they can relate on a base level, they will transfer the necessary details and continue to follow right along.

I was reminded of the power of this as I was watching a recorded interview with David Selby, cast member of the original DARK SHADOWS television series from the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  He mentioned how often people will mention to him that they “ran home from school” to be able to see the start of the show.

I did this, too!  In my case, the school building was far enough away that I was going to miss the opening.  Consequently, I was experimenting with newer, faster routes home with fewer intersections and more level ground for easier running.  Eventually, I reached a point at which I missed only the first five minutes.  (If the opening teaser…often a recap of the ending of yesterday’s show…was a little longer than usual, I was still able to see the iconic main titles wash across the screen!)

Now, it could be argued that I would be naturally inclined to be interested in what David Selby had to say since I was already a fan of the television series.  That’s true.  However, his recalling of that image caused me to be pre-disposed to agreeing with the next thing that he would have to say.

Let me give you an example of a memory that is often not shared, and that can be transferred.

When I was a child, there was a television show that started every Friday night at 11:30.  It was called CHILLER THEATRE, and it ran mostly Universal and American International horror movies.  There were always two films offered, so the second feature became affectionately known as “Double Chiller.”

I and most of my school friends were avid watchers of this program.  If the movies were especially good (such as one of the FRANKENSTEIN movies, or an offering that had a disembodied hand crawling around), then I could be sure that we’d have a lot to talk about on the playground at school Monday morning.

Of course, the first topic that ALWAYS came up was whether or not you were able to stay awake for both feature films!  It was way, way past our usual bedtimes, so watching a black and white flickering screen while snuggled under the bedcovers in our rooms made the prospect of completing both films very difficult. 

Naturally, no one wanted to admit that they hadn’t seen both shows.  So, the discussion of the second show’s plot would vary wildly as we struggled to add details that we THOUGHT should be there from the title…and desperately hoped that it would be.  (It was very interesting to watch some of these films in later years and learn that the story was very different from the one described on Monday’s playground years before!)

Now, with the advent of recorded television, downloadable programming and home video editions, the next generation of kids and later never had this direct experience.  They didn’t need to scan the most recent issue of “TV Guide” to see if a particular favorite would be aired.  The digital recorder scanned for them and arranged to capture what they wanted.

And yet, whenever I use that example, everyone seems able to connect.  Why?  Because they substitute CHILLER THEATRE with something else that had great meaning for them as children, and which required a “rite of passage” in order to participate.

Perhaps it was a future vacation at Walt Disney World…complete with the knowledge that THIS TIME they would have to ride The Tower of Terror.  Maybe it was a sleepover…or a camping trip…with a REALLY IMPORTANT activity that threatened to elude them as the veil of impending sleep descended.

Regardless of the specifics, they understand need behind my sitting up to see the Double Chiller.  It is a shared experience because there are elements that are common to so many of them without all of the details needing to be in place.

What universal memories can you add to your stories to assure audience involvement?  Don’t concern yourself that they may be too unique.  Try one or two of them out.  You may be surprised by the knowing smiles and the nodding heads.

Thank you for reading.

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