| “And Lord, please be with Marlena and Bo and Hope. You know how awful Stefano is. Please keep them safe.” |
The year was 1997, and my husband and I were sitting around the table with a few friends telling stories about our crazy families. When our friend Chris recited the words his Grandma prayed before EVERY MEAL, he took home the award for craziest grandma.
Growing up in South Carolina, Chris had learned that when Grandma prays for her soap opera characters, there’s only one appropriate response (especially if you want to eat): Nod your head and say amen.
We all imagined her as crazy Aunt Bethany in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.And while we all agreed that Grandma Blackwell might be a tad senile, we also knew we couldn’t blame it all on old age.
Stories are designed to pull us in like gravity. Told well, they capture our attention in near indiscernible ways, shaping our perceptions, changing our minds, motivating our hearts, and in many ways, their fictional narratives play such a large role in shaping our lives that the line between truth and fiction really does become quite blurry.
(It’s why those of us who are 40 and older still secretly wonder who in the h*ll shot J.R.)
While I’ve never prayed for my most favorite characters, I have found myself sobbing over the pages of a Steinbeck novel, and I did shed a few secret tears in a dark theater when Yondu died in Guardians of the Galaxy.
You get it, right? Great stories become great stories because they get INSIDE our heads and our hearts. They spark a moment of recognition within us and allow us to feel the fictional pain as though it were our very own heartbreak. No one has to tell you when you’ve read a great story. You can feel it deep in your bones.
A few years ago, I felt this experience in full effect after binge watching Broadchurch on Netflix. (If you’ve never watched it, stop everything and go find it right now.) It’s a story about murder, betrayal, and small community, and one of the lead detectives on the case speaks with a thick and dreamy Scottish accent.
By the time the show was over, I spent the next two weeks craving English tea and Scotch eggs, asking for drams of whiskey, and listening to my inner voice speak to everyone with phrases like skedaddle aff and yeir heid’s full o’ mince. I had taken on the demeanor AND the voice of the characters I had been living with, and life without them felt strangely amiss.
Sans prayers, I had become Grandma Blackwell. Story had found its way deep into my soul, and it wasn’t letting go easily.
*I registered with the fear of losing a child.
*I empathized with the sexual assault victim who told a story few wanted to believe.
*I agonized over the strain on a marriage.
*I fell over in disbelief when the true culprit was exposed (because like everyone else in the show, I, too, had come to love him).
Phenomenologists call this experience the validating circle of inquiry, or the phenomenological nod.
Oversimplified: it’s a powerful concept that says if you’re seeking to reflect the human experience, you need to tell your story in a way that allows the reader to listen in and say, “Yeah. . . I can definitely understand how that would be a valid experience.”
And when you’re writing your own story (whether it’s through email, a web page, or any other medium), you want to do this, too.
You want your reader to nod her head in agreement.
You want her to believe your account because she can feel the weight of the experience.
You want her to be able to step up and say, “Hey! I’ve felt that, too!”
As storytellers, and as leaders of our brands, it’s our job to create this type of validating experience → for every message we write. It’s our job to find the stories that will move our audience, the stories that will resonate with them, the stories that will convince them to trust you with their hearts.