Wednesday, June 18, 2008

How Memorable.

In the morning on my way to the office, I read the newspaper.

Yes, it's on actual pieces of paper.

Not a Kindle Reader. (Kindle as in flames? Yipes!) Not an iPhone. Not a laptop.

Actual pieces of paper a human being in a gas-guzzling vehicle flings at my door sometime in the early a.m.

I like it.

I usually finish reading the paper on the train. But then there are articles I'd like to 'clip'--but that I do virtually.

I get to the office, and when I have a moment, I grab the articles from the web site and save them (strictly for my personal use). I figure since I buy the paper, I deserve to keep a copy of an article or two.

But how do I remember which articles?

I use an age-old technique: mnemonics.

Legend has it a visitor to a party walked from room to room, and just after he left, the building collapsed. No one knew who all had died.

So the asked the man to remember. He couldn't. Until he imagined walking from room to room and place to place, and then he could recall all the people he had seen.

This gave the idea of topoi or topics--places (like the rooms of the collapsed house) you associate with different items, so a list, even a random list, becomes memorable.

My technique is similar. I just create a crazy image for each article, and then I link them together in a story.

A woman's cleaning her flooded house, and the fridge pops open, and there's a dead elk in there. The elk comes to life and smokes some Greek tobacco.

That points to three stories in the paper I want to 'clip' today.

All of which made me think of memorability.

In teaching screenwriting online, I've lately noticed that the actions in screenplays have a general and a particular side.

Athletes train. Rocky drank raw eggs and ran up some museum steps. Maggie in Million Dollar Baby is a waitress. So she takes home a leftover steak from work, practices her footwork while waiting tables, and uses the change from her tips to buy a speed bag.

The clever screenwriter made the training specific to the profession.

This also created memorable images.

It's really worth thinking about memorability in writing. Don't we remember certain images from movies very clearly? Certain moments from the story?

There's something about how a movie gets under your skin, into your brain. It's not just efficient--getting from point A to point B--it's memorable.

So taking one's story and then saying 'how would I remember this?' could be a nice way of going down that path.

--E. R. O'Neill

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