Why Do We Remember Facts When Told in Stories?

Posted by Sara Esther Crispe
Published On Apr 22, 2021

This is your brain…

Do you know what comes next? If you were alive in the late 80s and watching television, you most definitely do. And if you do, you are picturing a fry pan right now with a sunny side up egg sizzling away.

This your brain on drugs…

You know why you remember it? Because that visual told you a story. It made it real. It made it memorable. And so you immediately learned, and it was drilled into you, that drugs will fry your brain.

Now if the approach had been different and you were given a number of facts that drugs will destroy your frontal cortex and mess up how your neurons fire, I highly doubt you would have paid close attention. But I, for one, will never forget that egg.

According to cognitive psychologist, Jerome Bruner, storytelling can make any fact up to twenty-two times more memorable. That’s a lot of times more memorable. And it is a vital fact to know.

As writers, our job is to keep our readers interested, engaged and focused on what we are trying to share. We better make good points, in a clear way, and with words that flow to keep attention.

But nothing draws one in better than a story. The second I begin to show and not tell, it is a whole different ballgame. And that is because storytelling allows the facts to become feelings. Stories engage not just your mind but your heart, and once you are emotionally invested, you are hooked.

This is why people love movies and novels and anything that can invite them into another person’s world. When we follow the story of someone else’s life, and feel we are a part of it, connecting to them and their situations, we no longer are spectators but actual players in their scenarios.

And that is the same trick that must be done with nonfiction, with real situations, with a bunch of facts. Put them into a story, give them characters and emotional complexity, and they come to life. They have meaning and relevance because they become personal.

This is how a book on neuroscience or game theory or educational approaches goes from technical to emotional. Open any one. I guarantee you each fact will follow a story. And because you will remember the story, you are much more likely to remember the fact. Twenty-two times actually.

Sizzle. Sizzle.



Topics: writing tools, writing tips, power of writing, writing impact, storytelling

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