The other day, my brother and I were taking about the weird things people seem to remember for a long time.
I said, “Do you remember that All in the Family…”
“I know exactly the one you mean,” my brother laughed, “The socks and shoes bit.”
A long time ago (when I was very young), there was a scene in an All in the Family episode where Archie Bunker and Michael Stivic, his son-in-law, have an argument about the best way to put on socks and shoes. Do you put both socks on first then shoes, or do you put a sock and shoe on each foot?
Why would something so basic stick in our heads for literally decades? I think it is because it is so basic. It’s like which way you put the toilet paper roll on the holder (in or out?).
These are things we deal with every day, often on a subconscious level. When we are faced with an aberration, we tend to remember it. It has something to do with our survival instincts.
How can we tap into this power when we write? One author who is very good at this is Stephen King. In Pet Sematary (one of his creepiest books ever), things are just so normal – except for…
Ad copywriters do it all the time. They need to establish a common ground with potential customers while differentiating themselves from the hordes of people offering the same (or similar) products. Watch a television ad for something like a diet supplement and really follow how they present the product. You can get an idea of what I mean.
Observe something that everyone does or encounters (putting on socks and shoes). Then present it in a different light (sock-shoe, sock-shoe) or put a bit of a glitch in the norm (snake in the shoe). People will remember the unusual. But don’t do it too often or with a heavy hand. People can convert repetitive uncommon things into the mundane pretty quickly.
When our writing taps into the commonalities of life, we make connections with our readers. When we throw in a hiccough, we make it memorable.