Last year I started watching the prime time drama “9-1-1” (and then its spin-off, “9-1-1 Lone Star”), and I am totally hooked.
I won’t pretend that either show is exceptional art. The writing is predictable and the plots outlandish. But a lot of the acting is great, and I’ll tell you this: week after week, the shows deliver exactly what they promise.
We turn to certain kinds of entertainment not to be surprised, but because we know what to expect. “Law & Order” has endured for decades not because we have no idea what’s going to happen, but because it’s the TV version of comfort food.
The formula is the appeal.
Our brains are busy, and we engage with complex ideas every day. There are times we choose complexity, and times we would rather not.
When we are responsible for communicating complex ideas, choosing a formula to put them in can make them more legible and memorable. The formula means the listener can do less work processing what you’re offering, and engage more with the main takeaway. In addition, using a familiar formula can make your twist stand out even more. Think of a pop song that changes up the hook, or a horror movie that subverts your expectation.
The formula for your work may not be a prime time soap opera, but it probably does have elements in common with something your audience is already familiar with. What of those elements can you repurpose for yourself?