The Power of Suggestion

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Anna Staniszewski posted a link to a very funny commercial on her blog today.  I’ve copied her and done the same here.  Watch it first so the rest of this post will make sense.


After I’d finished laughing, what struck me the most about the commercial was just how easy it can be to create the impression of “place” in the minds of others.  A few key props moved around and the actor went from the shower, to a boat, to riding a horse on a sandy beach.  While this commercial employed the magician’s technique of sleight-of-hand, and a little embellishment with special effects (the Old Spice rising from the diamonds) to keep us from noticing the change of scenery before it was revealed, it didn’t take much of that scenery to convince us of where he was where we thought he was.

Imagine for a moment if we could pull back the camera and see the entire set. If we did, we’d see the cut-off ends of the bathroom walls and the boat.  And we’d have seen the horse just off to the side waiting from him to mount as he picked up the clam shell.  Our imaginations filled in the parts we couldn’t see but assumed were there from the few details we could see.

Speaking of direction, Mary Robinette Kowal does an excellent job describing direction and suggestion applying the principles of puppetry in the process of writing fiction.  You can listen the interview in the Writing Excuses podcast.  I HIGHLY recommend listening to it.

Our goal as storytellers is to create an impression of the reality we are creating in the minds of our audience.  Done well, it doesn’t have to take pages and pages of description or narration to do it, only takes enough to suggest it.  Imagination will do the rest.

For writers of fiction, that’s a great lesson to keep in mind.

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One Response to The Power of Suggestion

  1. Anna says:

    John, I’m glad you found this as funny as I did! And you’re absolutely right that the commercial shows how easily place can be conveyed with a few simple clues. I just listened to the Mary Robinette Kowal interview – her points are so basic and yet so insightful. I’ll have to pass it along to my students.

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