The Impact of Stories

Stories, especially those told in the media of film or television, can have a tremendous impact on an audience. Experiencing a story is similar in many ways to experiencing events in “real life”. Stories can make us laugh or cry, leave us feeling euphoric or depressed, lead us through a logistic consideration, or leave us in an emotional state.

In this age of social networks, streaming media, and high-tech motion picture production, the average citizen in our society may be exposed to almost as many narrative experiences as life experiences. As a result, understanding the nature and mechanism by which stories affect audiences can lead to insights in media impact on an individual’s outlooks and attitudes.

From one perspective, we might identify four areas in which this impact manifests itself:

One, the emotional mood an audience is left with at the conclusion of a story.

Two, the emotional journey experienced by an audience during the unfolding of a story.

Three, understandings arrived at by the audience by the conclusion of a story.

Four, logistic considerations made by the audience during the unfolding of the story.

Because these are so basic and important, let me take a moment to expand slightly on each of these concepts.

One: The Mood at the End

Emotionally, a story can change the mood of an audience from what it was at the beginning of a story to a completely different emotional state by the time it is over. This might pertain to the way the audience feels about a particular topic, or simply might change the underlying mood of the audience overall.

For example, in a story such as “Remains of the Day”, an audience might be brought to a saddened and frustrated emotional state that might linger well after the story is over. This mood could even recur when some symbol or set of circumstances in everyday life triggers a conscious re-consideration of the story or a subconscious response based on patterns experienced in the story.

In addition, an audience’s emotional response toward a particular topic, symbol, circumstance, or pattern may be altered through the story experience, leading to anything from changes in likes and dislikes to changes in attitudes, loyalties, or motivations in regard to a specific topic.

Two: The Emotional Journey

In the process of experiencing a story, audience members may be carried from one emotion to another in an order that might conform to or differ from their experiences in “real life”. This can either reinforce or alter habitual patterns of emotional response, albeit in a small and perhaps temporary way. For example, if an audience member were to identify with a character, such as Agent Mulder in “The X-Files”, he or she might (over time) become more likely to play hunches or, conversely, less likely to accept things at their face value.

Three:  The Understanding at the End

By the end of a story, the audience may be brought to an understanding it did not possess prior to participating in the story process. For example, in “The Usual Suspects”, the big picture is not grasped by the audience until the final pieces are dropped into place near the end. This creates an insight, as opposed to a logistic argument, and can be used to change audience opinion in regard to a particular issue, either through manipulation or propaganda.

Four: The Logical Journey

As a story unfolds, a logistic argument may be constructed that leads linearly from one point of consideration to a conclusion. In “JFK”, for example, a continuous chain of logic is built link by link over the course of the film in an attempt to prove the filmmaker’s contentions about the Kennedy assassination. This method can exercise audience members in logistic methods that may be repeated unconsciously in their everyday lives.

From this brief look at the power of the visual media, we can get a sense that many people might be better understood by becoming aware of the kinds of stories to which they are exposed, and many people might also benefit in a number of ways from carefully tailored story experiences.

This article was excerpted from:

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Introduction to Communication

The process of communication requires at least two parties: the originator and the recipient. In addition, for communication to take place, the originator must be aware of the information or feelings he wishes to transmit, and the recipient must be able to determine that meaning.

Similarly, storytelling requires an author and an audience. And, to tell a story, one must have a story to tell. Only when an author is aware of the message he wishes to impart can he determine how to couch that message so it will be accurately received.

It should be noted that an audience is more than a passive participant in the storytelling process. When we write the phrase, “It was a dark and stormy night,” we have communicated a message, albeit a nebulous one.

In addition to the words, another force is at work creating meaning in the reader’s mind. The readers themselves may have conjured up memories of the fragrance of fresh rain on dry straw, the trembling fear of blinding explosions of lightning, or a feeling of contentment that recalls a soft fur rug in front of a raging fire. But all we wrote was, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

We mentioned nothing in that phrase of straw or lightning or fireside memories. In fact, once the mood is set, the less said, the more the audience can imagine. Did the audience imagine what we, the authors, had in mind? Not likely. Did we communicate? Some. We communicated the idea of a dark and stormy night. The audience, however, did a lot of creating on its own.

While some authors write specifically to communicate to an audience, many others write because they wish to follow their personal Muses. Sometimes writing is a catharsis, or an exploration of self. Sometimes authoring is a sharing of experiences, fragmented images, or just of a point of view. Sometimes authoring is marking a path for an audience to follow, or perhaps just presenting emotional resources the audience can construct into its own vision.

Interactive communications question the validity of a linear story itself, and justifiably so. There are many ways to communicate, and each has just as much value as the next depending upon how one wishes to affect one’s audience.

It has been argued that perhaps the symbols we use are what create concepts, and therefore no common understanding between cultures, races, or times is possible.

On the contrary, there are common concepts: morality, for example. Morality, a common concept? Yes. While not everyone shares the same definition of morality, every culture and individual understands some concept that means “morality” to them.

In other words, the concept of “morality” may have many different meanings — depending on culture or experience — but they all qualify as different meanings of “morality.”

Thus there can be universally shared essential concepts even though they drift apart through various interpretations. It is through this framework of essential concepts that communication is possible.

To communicate a concept, an author must symbolize it, either in words, actions, juxtapositions, interactions — in some form or another. As soon as the concept is symbolized, however, it becomes culturally specific and therefore inaccessible to much of the rest of the world.

Even within a specific culture, the different experiences of each member of an audience will lead to a slightly different interpretation of the complex patterns represented by intricate symbols.

On the other hand, it is the acceptance of common symbols of communication that defines a culture. For example, when we see a child fall and cry, we do not need to know what language he speaks or what culture he comes from in order to understand logistically what has happened.

If we observe the same event in a narrative, however, it may be that in the author’s culture a child who succumbs to tears is held in low esteem. In that case, then the emotions of sadness we may feel in our culture are not at all those intended by the author.

The accuracy with which an author is able to successfully convey both concept and context defines the success of any communication. And so, communication requires both a sound narrative and an effective translation of that narrative into symbolic language.

These requirements create an immensely rich and complex form which (though often practiced intuitively) can be deconstructed, understood, and manipulated with purpose and skill.

To begin such a deconstruction, let us next examine the origins of communication and the narrative form.

This article was excerpted from:

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Narrative Analysis: Why Guam?

Guam has been referred to as America’s “permanent aircraft carrier.” It’s strategic importance as a bridge to Asia cannot be overstated. In 2016, it was revealed China has missiles targeted at Guam.

China has been “unable” to pressure Kim Jong Un to stand down, despite controlling a significant percentage of North Korea’s purse. Who put the bug about Guam in Kim Jong Un’s ear?

China publicly decries DPRK policies and votes in the United Nation for sanctions, distancing themselves from any appearance of privately supporting, perhaps even guiding Kim Jong Un’s responses.

Project forward, North Korea blasts Guam, making it un-useable for decades and causing our forces there great losses. The U.S. retaliates against the DPRK, moving forces to that region. China, who has aspirations as the major “peace-keeper” in Asia, and with its hands apparently clean regarding the attack, moves into North Korea to bring stability to the country now thrown into chaos, and for “humanitarian” reasons.

South Korea has already moved into the southerm portion of the DPRK to protect its security, and China is “forced” to take control of the entire Korean peninsula to quash the ensuing skirmishes, perhaps war, between the North and the South. And, due to “concerns” of Taiwan attempting to take advantage of China’s diverted attention, the PRC moves on and occupies Taiwan as well.

End game: U.S. forces arrive in the region with China in control of both Koreas and Taiwan and with no cards to play short of war with China. China is clean as a whistle having had no role in the attack nor counter attack, and the U.S. is stuck with the stigma of having destroyed thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of North Korean citizens – innocent civilians: men, women and children, and has also lost its crucial base for any future hedge against Chinese expansion. Think about it.

This analysis was made based on perspectives
provided by the Dramatica Theory of Narrative Structure

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Story Structure: Precise or Contextual?

Story structure should be viewed as guidelines, not rules.  it is a logical framework to hold our passion.

If ever there is a conflict between high-passion and structure, go with the passion.  If ever there is an opportunity to apply structure in a more contextual and less direct way (without being unclear), take it.

Structure does not have to be seen in total clarity as the story unfolds, but only by the time the story had concluded.  Along the way, storytelling technique should layer ever-increasing understanding on the subject of the fiction until the precise nature of the structural component become clear by the the end.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator Dramatica

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How to Use StoryWeaver to Write Your Novel or Screenplay

StoryWeaver is a list of over 200 questions, each building on the last as you develop your story step by step.

You start with the first question, then just go down the list, one question at a time, follow the instructions, and add a little bit more to your story – a small addition to your character, plot, theme or genre.

Every once in a while StoryWeaver asks you to blend that new material you developed over the past few questions into an ever-evolving synopsis that ultimately will be the treatment and outline for your story.

So, the way to use the software is like handrails on stairs.  Each stair is another dramatic point in your story, and the handrails (the instructions on each question) help guide you safely from one step to the next.

The concept is pretty simple, really, though it took eight years to work out all the details.  The real innovation in StoryWeaver is that it quotes your answers on earlier questions when it helps you to answer a new question.  So sometimes, you may encounter a question that presents your previous work from four or five earlier questions so you can see the patterns of what you are creating, which helps you tie things together and to stay consistent.

Each question has more than just instructions asking you to write something or work something out.  It also provides examples, background information and even a little bit about how that story point fits into overall story structure – all to light up the room you are working in at the moment so you never find yourself in the dark or without a clear path ahead.

So, my best advice is to open the program, go to the first question in the list on the left, and then just follow them from top to bottom (though their organizing folders and subfolders – it’s just a list, but grouped into folders section by section).

You’ll learn more about your story every step of the way and by the time you are done you’ll have it all worked out – every character, what happens to them, what it all means, and how it impacts your reader or audience.

I hope this helps you get the most out of StoryWeaver as your step by step path for developing your novel or screenplay.

May the Muse be with you!

Melanie Anne Phillips
Creator, StoryWeaver

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Books by Melanie Anne Phillips

My new Author Page on Amazon listing all my published books:

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Do You Want To Write a Tale or a Story?

The difference between a tale and a story is that a tale is just a linear step by step progression through plot events and character growth in which the next step can be anything at all, as long it makes logical sense, within the logic of the tale’s “universe that you establish as an author.

But a story is more like a mosaic. As with a tale, it progresses step by step. But in a story, each dramatic moment, each next step, is like a mosaic piece. So, as the story unfolds, as each mosaic piece is laid down, a bigger picture emerges – a message or moral – the story’s meaning, and the underlying “argument” made by the author in the story’s structure to convince the reader of the author’s professed moral conclusion about the proper way to think or feel in regard to the core issue of the story (the message issue).

As an example, you can look to Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” in which all the events that happen are part of the effort of the ghosts (and others) to convince Scrooge that his point of view is flawed and he should learn to embrace love, and joy, to be generous toward others, and to keep Christmas in his heart. If that message were not argued, scene by scene and act by act, Christmas Carol would be a simple tale of a mean old man who comes to care about others and finds joy. But the message – the structure that compels the readers to embrace that moral and make it a cornerstone of their own life, would be missing without the complete story argument.

I assume you might like to transcend writing a simple tale or series of events and instead create a story in which all the parts eventually work together to a greater purpose. If that is the case, I can guide you to organizing your story elements in a structural way that is consistent with the timeline you have presented but simultaneously fashions that “bigger picture” that can move your readers to change their own lives.

Here’s how we begin.

The single most important dramatic in a story (that is not needed in a tale) is the “message argument” between the main character (who begins with one world view, attitude, or philosophy) and an influence character who represents the opposing moral or philosophic view. The moral argument between them runs from the beginning of the story to the climax at which the main character either sticks with his original perspective or decides to change his mind/heart and adopt the alternative view of the influence character.

To help you get a good sense of this relationship, here’s a link to a short article I wrote about these two characters that includes a video clip showing these two character as they appear in several different well-known stories.

Here’s the article with the clip, and after you view it, read on for the first step in creating structure for your story:

Your Story Will Fail (if you don’t do this…)

Now that you have seen the clip, you can easily recognize the main character who begins with one outlook, and the influence character who pressures him or her to change – either by direct pressure or by influence alone.

The entire message of your story will hinge on whether or not the main character changes, and whether or not that was a good or bad choice. (Sometimes it is better not to change and to stick with our beliefs; other times it is better to abandoned our long-held beliefs, update how we see the world, and try a different tack.)

Not having a clear message issue and/or not having an influence character is the biggest source of structural failure in a story because it leaves the story without a passionate throughline and without real human meaning in the end.

So, your first step in creating a sound story structure after you have your main character is to specify your message issue and identify your influence character who has a moral or philosophical belief system in direct opposition to that of your main character.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator Dramatica

Learn more about the main and influence characters

Contact me about my story consultation services

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