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The Power of Altered Perception in Storytelling
The ever-present can become invisible, deepening your audience's immersion in what you create
This is part of my “Art of Noticing” series, in which I learn, find, or discover the things around me that usually go unnoticed and turn them into an endless source of creative inspiration.
Today, I noticed a TV show laugh track I hadn’t noticed before. It made me realize how easily elements of anything repeated can fade into the background.
My wife and I have been watching a sitcom in our zone-out time called Mom. The other night, the sudden and unexpected addition of a laugh track to the show struck me. Laugh tracks were only popular until the 1990s or so, so why had the producers added one to this twenty-teens show … and added it IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FIFTH SEASON?
Well, turns out I was wrong. The laugh track had been there all along. It was even in the episode we’d watched just the previous night. So why did it hit me like a ton of bricks this time? And why, when I mentioned it to my wife, did she agree with me that it’d just been added?
It made me realize how our brains are able to filter out repetitive elements that we don’t care about — or, in this case, that we actively dislike and find strange compared to all other modern sitcoms. Things like that, it seems, just fade into the background.
It got me thinking about how when I write my books, there might be recurring elements or themes in my own stuff too — elements that, over time, become almost invisible to the audience. But just because they've faded doesn't mean they aren't important, unlike a laugh track in a modern show. Instead, they still might set a tone or atmosphere even if they're not actively acknowledged.
What elements in our work might be flying under the radar, subtly shaping the audience's experience? Is there power in the elements we assume are obvious when, in fact they're only being received subconsciously?
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Here's how this "noticing" can benefit my stories and art:
Crafting Subtle Atmosphere
By being aware of the elements in my work that might fade into an audience's background, I can strategically use them to create a consistent tone or mood. For instance, a repeated phrase or oft-mentioned callback in a novel can provide a sense of cohesiveness and depth.
Challenging Audience Assumptions
Every now and then, I think it might make sense to bring one of those subtle elements to the forefront, jolting the audience and making them reconsider their perceptions. Just like me suddenly noticing a laugh track that was there from the start, any sort of “forced reboot” might evoke fresh engagement with the work … turning off a reader’s autopilot
Remember, while it's essential to focus on the primary components of our stories and art, the subtle, consistent elements we weave throughout can really enhance the overall experience … if we make a point to notice them, and they don’t fade into the background for us, too.
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