What is Past is Prologue

Ever wondered what happens to frustrated novelists and screenwriters? 

They become copywriters.

Or maybe it’s the other way around. 

Having been there, done that and been all three, at times concurrently, it usually is the other way around. 

In my entire  30-year career in the marketing commnications and training arena I only met one copywriter who didn’t aspire to writing a novel or a screenplay.

And he committed suicide last year.  I kid you not. 

I hired that kid, way back when.  Trained him.  He was spectacularly talented.  But he had no dream.

Somewhere in that chaos of psychology and pain there is a dotted line connection having to do with the definition of happiness.  It’s more about learning to love what you do — to find value and purpose — when you can’t do what you love. 

Maybe he just didn’t love anything anymore.  He ran out of dreams.

Count your blessings.  Maybe you’re not published yet.  But I’m guessing you love what you do as you try. 

You write.  Give that dream, and yourself, a great big hug.


Once in a while I can see the inner storyteller peeking out from behind the narrative of an edgy piece of ad copy.  Like that recent kickass Old Spice commercial.  I first saw that in a movie theater, blogged about it that night, and a month later — with no connection whatsoever — it won the Best Television Commercial award at some fancy banquet. 

Not long ago I saw another such example in a theater. 

I usually resent having to watch what would otherwise be a television commercial prior to the previews, but some of them are worthy of the venue by the sheer virtue of their genius or depth.  Which are not always bed buddies.

This one was for — go with me here, don’t judge — a video game.  Really. 

I don’t play video games, which may or may not make me lame in your eyes.  But I do know a great piece of copy when I read it or hear it properly rendered, and this one spoke to me.  Because it reeks of a closeted novelist sitting in a cubicle conducting her or his day job.

It doesn’t matter what happens visually, or even what the product is.  Because the message is universal to storytellers.

Here’s the script. 

The past is not a memory. It is a force at my back.

It pushes and steers.

I may not always like where it leads me.

But like any story, the past needs resolution.

What is past is prologue.

Learn more about how to make the dream come true here.


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15 Responses to What is Past is Prologue

  1. I really liked the text of this commercial, too, when I finally listened to it. (It also made the graphics make a lot more sense, LOL.) It reminded me of a blog post by Theresa Stevens, where she pointed out that backstory isn’t “backstory” to your character—it’s his/her past.

  2. Patrick Sullivan

    I had TOTALLY forgotten about this ad, though I do need to get my hands on the game it advertises (I’m an oldschool gamer going back to the atari 2600 days).

    I also agree the subtle storytelling is amazing, and arguably better than most longer works, because of how much is done with how little imagery and text. How many people could pull that off? It’s freakin’ brilliant, to the point I’m envious.

  3. Yeah, I’m anal retentive about this kind of stuff, and not trying to be a dick about it, (and God only knows, my spelling/grammar could use a polish more often than not),

    but shouldn’t

    “…it wreaks of a closeted novelist…”


    “…it reeks of a closeted novelist…”?

    since ‘wreak’ means to destroy and ‘reek’ means smell?

    Annnnyway, love the post. Again.

  4. Love this. I have no idea what it’s advertising as we don’t have TV (only Love Film and other DVDs, in case you’re worried about my cultural education). But I love your whole post and the recognition of a fellow novelist struggling to get out. We are all out there in disguise most of the time, and occasionally someone recognises us for what we truly are. I’m tweeting this.

  5. Larry,

    Best Storyfix post ever.

    This is why I read you.



  6. Joyce Palmer

    Loved this post!

    I’m struggling, have been for quite some time. But I’ve managed to hold on to the dream and I’m loving the process.

    Your story about the copywriter without the dream touched me. Life is so fragile.

    Thank you for your inspiring posts. We appreciate you.

  7. It’s a shame that guy chose suicide as his resolution. His prologue became his whole book. I believe so strongly that writers need an outlet, I started a site to deal with it. If only this guy would have found one similar. Who knows what books he robbed us of enjoying, too. Bleepin’ sad!

  8. Kelly

    Hello, Larry. Kelly here.
    A shame the guy couldn’t see his way out of the black hole and back into the light. “They” say 80% of writers are afflicted by clinical depression at some point. Maybe he didn’t dare to share his dream.
    Regarding the copy for the ad–
    I like the catch phrase “The past is prologue.” Very memorable.
    Not being a gamer (Pac Man would be my heyday) no clue what it’s for, but still like it.
    Hopefully that copywriter will break out some day.
    Cheers, Kelly

  9. Gina

    Well I am a copywriter who does not aspire to write a screenplay or a novel. I aspire to personal essays and poetry. But I also aspire to writing copy which helps promote things I’m passionate about–like sustainable farming and raising real food. I am fascinated by how I can apply story technique to copywriting because I actually believe copywriting, when applied to worthy causes, can be humanizing and literary. I think copywriting might be one of the most underrated forms of writing. Maybe it’s because we normally associate copywriting with some form of lying.

  10. Thomas

    [Kelley wrote: “I like the catch phrase ‘The past is prologue.’ Very memorable.” It should be!]:
    We all were sea-swallow’d,
    Though some cast again
    (And by that destiny) to perform an act
    Whereof what’s past is prologue; what to come,
    In yours and my discharge.
    (Shakespeare, The Tempest Act 2)
    In early drama the prologue set the scene and presented the themes of a play. “What’s past is prologue” means “what has already happened merely sets the scene for what is really important – the drama that will make us great” – or, it’s the mere groundwork for the real achievement. Larry’s friend’s suicide halted his play at the end of the prologue – just where he should have started typing”Act 1, Scene 1.” Tragic.
    [In the Tempest quote, “the act” that Antonio proposes is that Sebastian murder his sleeping father, Alonso, King of Naples, and grab the crown. All of them are now “cast” [theatrical pun is intended] on a desert island – so they have a new stage, a clean page, a fresh start, a perfect crime. All their past has been prologue for this new scenario which will change their fortunes.]
    ** “What’s past is prologue” is carved on the National Archives Building in Washington.

  11. Fantastic post Larry! I only watch TV when there’s college football on, and am too busy writing or reading, or flipping to another game, during commercials to ever see one, (so sorry about that Gina). Obviously I need to pay more attention to those commercials.

    I’m an early gamer too – Pac Man, Galactica, etc – but both my sons are gamers so I’m sure they’d be interested. What is the commercial “Past is prologue” for?

    Thanks for this Larry!

  12. Sue

    Larry… thanks for the hug and the reminder to never give up. From experience I know that persistence pays off in the end. My dad always told me that I will only fail when I quit. Today, I have a hard time quitting anything! Again, thank you for the encouragement.

  13. Monica

    I saw that commercial! (A rare thing since I too breeze thru commercials w/ my DVR) It stopped me from forwarding, IIRC. I definitely got a storytelling vibe from it, @ even got some inspiration from it. Good catch, Larry.

    I’m sorry about your friend, Larry. If only he could have seen there was an Act I waiting for him.

  14. Krista Edmonds

    Hey, Larry! How about that link??