“To the moon, Alice!” (Ralph Kramden)
I’m recycling a post from a little while back, because it’s on a subject that can never be discussed too many times…
… especially when it’s important that you establish a real, visceral connection with people to make your business work.
In fact, what I’m bring up here is much more critical to creating effective advertising than many of the obvious things people tend to focus on (like “long copy versus shot copy”, or how to test offers).
Listen: If you understand how to use the powerful tool explained below…
… you can screw up almost every other part of creating your ad (or video, or website, or email, or whatever you’re using to get your story across)… and still crush it with results.
So ignore the details in this dusty post (like references to “Six Feet Under”, that great HBO series now long-gone)…
… and know that the insight revealed here will forever be one of the most influential you’ll ever use in marketing.
In fact, it’s just becoming more and MORE important as social media and info-overwhelm continues to nudge everyone toward ADHD-Land, where attention spans are pathetic and fundamental human emotions like empathy wither.
Here’s the post (with a few edits and some added stuff):
Jeez Louise. Did you catch Sunday’s episode of “Six Feet Under”, with the jarring funeral scenes?
It was… shattering.
I was jarred back to every funeral I’d ever attended, and had emotions wrung out of me I’d long forgotten about.
Screw reality TV. The truly well-written fictional shows (most of them on HBO) can still rattle your cage like classic literature.
That episode was quality emotional-wringing.
Got me thinking, too. About empathy. And writing.
I’ve known people who seem to have shut down their empathy gears… and it becomes evident when they lose the ability to get outside of themselves and see the world from other people’s viewpoint. Movies require you to emotionally connect with the characters…
… and I recall uncles who fell asleep during the pea-soup-spewing scenes in “The Exorcist”…
… friends who laughed all through “Jaws”…
… and (in a real-world example) even an acquaintance who wondered what the big deal was when a colleague freaked out over a cherished cat’s sudden demise.
I also first saw “Saving Private Ryan” with a friend who was still a little shaky over his years in Vietnam during the war. He’d asked me to see it with him for moral support… and while he didn’t seem to have a tough time watching the movie, I kept an eye on him anyway, not sure what sort of poison might be brewing back up.
Those three films — and my experience with pets and people dying and careers ending and relationships imploding — were all emotionally jarring on various levels. And they were executed by master craftsmen, using scripts written by writers who knew where the tender spots were in most audiences.
I always feel a little estranged from people who either are — or claim to be — removed from emotional reactions.
In real life, we mostly experience things from inside our heads or along the contours of our immediate senses. It’s a claustrophobic point-of-view even the best Hollywood-quality cameras can’t yet mimic. In real life, everything happens just outside (or just within) our personal space, moment by moment, with no editing and no replay button.
When you personally feel emotional trauma, it’s a shock-inducing trial by fire that consumes you.
However, watching a TV show or a movie is a removed experience — pure voyeurism. You’re not there. It’s not happening to you. It shouldn’t have the same power as real life.
And yet… sometimes all the emotion of the real experience IS there, bubbling up from deep inside.
All the good writers I know are drenched with emotional self-knowledge and empathy for the emotional experiences of others. We aren’t walking around sobbing hysterically… but we are easily overcome with the feeling of a situation.
Sometimes too easily. Several times, while speaking at seminars, I’ve gone off on tangents about something I really cared about, and felt myself start to choke up. I had to back off, and take a long moment to settle down and re-gather my wits. I know other speakers — the good ones — have had similar experiences.
And I often — often — finish writing something and realize I’ve got tears streaming down my face, and I’m deep into a tub of emotional goo I’ve created as I type.
This extra dose of emotion is no accident. You cannot be a good writer without empathy — without understanding, personally, what it’s like to feel everything humans are capable of feeling.
At full strength, too. The industrial-quality stuff.
The intensity of your ability to feel infuses your writing with power, and a connection to the most complex tragedies, comedies and dramas of human interaction.
In short… feeling strong emotions is a good thing.
If your emotions are in lock-down… from a bad childhood, or from a misguided sense of what it takes to be a man or woman (or leader or executive or parent or biz owner or anything else)… you will never be able to get into another person’s head.
And you’ll never find that sweet spot of need and connection that makes great literature great… and great sales copy a license to print money.
You don’t have to become a Drama Queen.
But you do need to stop pretending that emotions are some foreign intrusion on your coolness. Embrace your ability to know joy, sadness and yes, even pain. These are the building blocks of a well-lived life… and of a very, very, very effective writer.
No one gets out of here without a few tears.
Be a sap. It will help you engage with life more fully, and write with real passion.
Step One: Examine your capacity for empathy right now. Watch a TV show critically, and know that in most dramas there will be set times when the writers have inserted emotionally-rigged triggers for viewers — they are purposefully trying to tweak your heartstrings or your feelings of fear, sadness, or hope for the good guy to win.
Check yourself for responses. I know that every episode of “House”, for example, will test me emotionally (usually 47.5 minutes into the show, when a moment of truth arrives for the patient). (Just kidding — I haven’t timed it. But I’ll bet I’m close.) “SVU – Special Victims Unit” will present the same assault on your emotions. Re-runs of “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Two And A Half Men” are rife with them.
You don’t need to burst into tears to know your empathy gears are working. But you do need to know HOW you respond to both well-written and poorly-written attempts to tweak your heart and ability to care about others.
Step Two: Your life daily presents you with endless opportunities to embrace your full humanity….
… most of which we self-train ourselves to ignore, dismiss, or even fear.
Get over it.
We are, fundamentally, emotional beings… who have created cultures where open displays of emotion are frowned upon, regarded with horror, or at least saddled with restrictions.
It screws us up in spectacular ways.
As a writer, it’s your job to transcend the shackles of repression that hobble others. You need to give your emotions a daily work-out, strengthen them, know them as well as you know your favorite tastes, smells and visual pleasures…
… and, most of all, you need to respect them.
The world’s gone shallow on us. That’s a HUGE opportunity for every writer who gets comfortable with emotion (and especially empathy), and knows how to use it to raise his messages above the puddles of feeling now dominating most folks’ lives.
So sap up. The best writers are fully aware of EVERY part of being human, and this is the big part.
P.S. Hey — on a cool side note…
… if you love rock n’ roll (including alt, rockabilly, grunge, hair bands, etc) and enjoy insights to the seedier side of our culture (TV, Hefner’s mansion, gaudy and desperate grabs for attention)…
… I’ve got the perfect book for you: “Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead“, by our pal Neil Strauss. (Yeah, the guy who wrote “The Game”.)
Neil sent me an advance copy, and I can’t put the damn thing down. It’s all the juicy parts of his interviews with rock royalty (and the even more notorious rock gutter-dwellers) and cultural celebrities that the magazines refused to print (or just couldn’t). And there are decades worth of jaw-dropping shit here.
Hide this from the kids.
This is a deep, dark, zany and revealing insider’s view of a vast part of our modern civilization. Neil is a go-for-the-jugular interviewer (which is why a lot of this stuff couldn’t be released before)…
… and for anyone looking for an instant way to get hip to the appeal of “bad boys”, the insanity of celebrity worship, and the bizarre (yet disturbingly-effective) ways culture-movers think…
… this is must-read material.
As a writer, you need to see how this guy does interviews. Read and learn.
As a marketer, you need to own this insider look at one of the driving forces in the biz world (music, celebrity, media, etc).
And, just as someone living in this wacky world, you need to be alerted (immediately!) to the way your fellow humans are acting, thinking, and plotting.
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll wish you were there with Neil during the interviews (and the shows, and the after-parties)…
… and you’ll want to go hug your loved ones and give thanks your life isn’t being lived in the spotlight.
Killer stuff. Just grab the damn book, and dive in.