Creating your 100 character Memory List is vital, since you’ll be using this list extensively, and ‘living with’ these characters for years to come. The 100 List is a cast of characters who will represent each one of the two-digit numbers, i.e. the numbers from 00 to 99. Not only will this give those hundred numbers a ‘face’, but it will make it possible for you to link groups of numbers in such a way that you can ‘see’ them in your mind’s eye.
The method is simple: for each pair of digits there is a character involved and a unique action, so the first two digits determine the character, and the next two determine what action that character is performing. In this way you can build up a scene using memory characters (or cast members, if you like), doing each other’s actions and involving each other in various ways. It might sound complicated at first glance, but it’s straightforward really. To read about the memory list in a bit more detail, check out this page on Using The 100 List.
Creating memory characters
It’s entirely up to you who you choose to star in your memory list, but remember when you are creating your 100 List, the choice of your memory characters needs to stick to certain common-sense guidelines.
- Use characters you’re familiar with, and comfortable using
- Use characters who have a specific action associated with them
- Use characters you can visualise easily
- Use people you know, or well-known people, or people from history
With these things in mind, you can see it’s probably best not to use characters who are changing all the time. You want to make firm memory connections, so choosing, for example, a young person in your family might not be a good idea – as the person ages, the memories change, even if only imperceptibly. It’s better, for the purposes of this method, that the images are more or less ‘fixed’ (but that’s just my opinion).
I’ve stuck to using well-known people from TV and films, from politics, from history, from sport, etc, rather than using people I know personally. But that’s a choice for you to make; if you’re happy to use family and friends as memory characters, that’s fine. As always, with memory work, do what works for you.
Unique actions (or props)
Each character needs to have a unique action associated with that character. Here’s a few from my list, to give you an idea what I’m talking about:
Tarzan – swinging on a vine
Uncle Jed (from The Beverly Hillbillies) – whittling a stick
Mike Tyson – punching
Bob Geldof – rattling a collecting tin
It can be a bit of a challenge to keep coming up with unique actions, but many times they will be obvious. For a sports star, link him or her to that sport (as with Mike Tyson, above). For a film character (e.g. Tarzan) you’ll find they often have an action which is clearly associated with that particular character.
For a public figure, there is sometimes something you associate with someone, even if someone else might not see the link. Bob Geldof, for example, is probably best known for his music, but in my mind he will always link to an image of him urging the public to part with their money for his charity work, so a mental image of him rattling a collection tin seems to fit nicely in a memory list, even though he might never have actually done that in his life.
It’s important to note that this is definitely a case of using what works for you. If you take a look at my List, there will probably be characters there that you don’t even recognise by name, and some that you do recognise where you might wonder why I chose that action.
It doesn’t matter! It’s my memory list, and as long as it makes sense to me, that’s all that’s important. Same goes for you – choose characters and actions that mean something to you and stick in your mind, and you can’t go wrong.
A good mix of characters
Try to get a good mix of characters. By that I mean don’t use 100 sports stars, or even fifty, or twenty-five. Sports might be your thing, and your knowledge of sports might be encyclopaedic, but populating your 100 List entirely, or even largely, with sports stars is likely to cause you endless confusion.
Search far and wide for ideas for characters. Try to get them from various walks of life. Use both men and woman. Even use a few characters from cartoons or nursery rhymes if that suits you. Could you use Humpty Dumpty or the fairy at the top of the Christmas tree? Why not, as long as you can visualise them, and if, for you, they have some real ‘character’. But, for the most part, it’s best to stick with real people.
Note: you can have an alternative action for a character. This allows for a bit of leeway. Why restrict yourself to one single action for a character, when you can have two or three (as long as they are all unique to that character)?
For example, I have Marilyn Monroe putting on lipstick, or an alternative action is pouting for the camera. Because I’ve seen her in films plenty of times I can trust my memory to handle linking these two actions, and maybe even more, to that particular character. Similarly, with Mike Tyson, I can use an image of him punching or working out on the heavy bag, or skipping. These actions ‘work’ for him, and link specifically to him and to no-one else on the List.
You can also let a character ‘borrow’ another character’s clothing, or wig, or some other ‘prop’ as well as the action associated with that character. Anything that enriches the experience is fair game. Just don’t confuse yourself along the way!
Linking the characters to the numbers
The next thing is to link each character to a two-digit number. And you want to do it in such a way that it means something to you, or makes some kind of sense. If you assign numbers to characters at random you’ll make the job of memorizing them that much harder.
I tried to link the characters to the numbers using Dominic O’Brien‘s method, but gave up in the end. He came up with initials for the characters using the Major System, and then found characters who had those initials. Personally, I found Dominic O’Brien’s method too confining. In the end I went a slightly different route.
For many of the two-digit numbers, I chose dates. If a person had a link to a particular year, then I’d use that. For example, I easily link Hitler with 1939, the year of the outbreak of World War II. So Hitler has 39 assigned to him. Similarly, Churchill is associated (in my mind) with the end of the war, so he is linked to 1945, so 45 became Churchill’s number. George Formby easily links to 46, since I can readily imagine him making the country laugh again after the misery of the war years.
But the associations were not all to do with dates. Yozzer Hughes was a character in a TV series (The Boys from the Blackstuff ), and everything that could possibly go wrong in his life did go wrong. So he was given No. 13 in my memory list, the number linked to bad luck! Eric Bristow was a supreme darts player (a World Champion) so 40 seemed a good choice to assign to him (hitting a double-top in darts scores 40). And Laurel and Hardy were given 02, since they’re the only duo in the list.
I’ll give a few other examples, just to show that anything you can link to a character is enough to form the association.
I gave Butch Cassidy the 69 spot because Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was released in 1969, and it was a big favourite of mine at the time.
Mark Spitz won seven gold medals at the Munich Olympics in 1972. I remember watching him winning, time after time, and it seemed perfectly natural that he should hold the 72 spot.
Bruce Lee died in 1973, so he is forever linked to 73.
Nicholas Parsons chaired a radio comedy quiz programme called ‘Just A Minute’ for many years. I used to listen to it now and then. Good old Nick lodged himself neatly at No. 60 and there he stays. Oh, by the way, that’s because there are 60 seconds in a minute, if you hadn’t guessed!
Bill Gates holds the 98 spot. Can you guess why? Ever heard of Windows ’98? See, all it takes is something that you can link to the person. Windows ’98 was it!
After a while it gets harder to make meaningful associations, but there’s usually something you can come up with. In the end it doesn’t matter if there’s no connection with the number at all, as long as you can link them in your mind. After all, that’s all the connections are there for, to help you remember which character is linked with which number.
To take a look at the memory list characters I chose, check out these pages, each one detailing 20 numbers and memory characters: 00-19, 20-39, 40-59, 60-79 and 80-99. They might give you a better idea of how this whole thing works, and some ideas for memory characters of your own. You’re welcome to use some or all of them for your own memory list if you want to, but the main thing to bear in mind is that you have to have characters in your list that mean something to you, and that you can remember.
Where I went wrong
When you start creating your 100 List, try to avoid the mistakes I made. And I certainly made mistakes when I first tried creating my 100 List! I mention this only to warn you of the pitfalls that lie before you! Maybe it was due to my medical condition (it’s badly affected my memory and concentration), or maybe I’m just a bit of a perfectionist (never really happy to settle for something if I think I can make it better – never really a good idea)!
Whatever the reason, I kept changing a few characters and introducing new ones (even when I was preparing these pages!), partly because I found it very difficult to remember certain ones, no matter what I did to try to make them memorable. Chopping and changing doesn’t really achieve anything, as far as making this list goes, apart from creating confusion. I guess I was looking to create ‘the perfect memory list’. Don’t bother, it doesn’t exist! Take my advice and try to come up with a decent list pretty quickly, and then stick to it.
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