Positive psychologist Shawn Achor describes how there are 11 million pieces of information from our nerve endings that bombard our brains, but our brains only comprehend 40 bits of information per second. If we want to capture the attention of someone’s busy brain, we have to do something that causes our message to rise above the noise. This is where stories become our knights in shining armor. For example, imagine a king being presented a long list of words explaining facts about the army of a nearby kingdom. The parts of the king’s brain that would get activated are the language areas,(Broca’s area and Wernick’s area) whose job it is to interpret meaning of those words. Think of these areas as two crusty old philosophers whose job it is to sit in the royal library and interpret the meaning of words. Sometimes the meaning of the words gets so lost in the brain’s translation library that the king doesn’t realize what is truly important or when to take action.
Sometimes the explanatory words will make immediate sense and the meaning will retained forever. Too often, however, important facts goes in one ear and out the other. But if the prince wakes up the king and explains those same facts in the form of a story, a sleeping dragon in the insula of the brain wakes up, yawns, opens his eyes wide and starts to pay attention. If the story shared is a story that evokes emotion or reveals danger on the horizon, the king will be far more likely to listen, understand and take immediate action. The king’s brain pays attention to the story as it produces signs of arousal, increases the heart rate and breathing, and releases stress hormones.
When a story has captured our attention long enough, we may begin to transport into the story until we resonate with the characters, mirror their emotions and feel empathy. Empathy is increased by the release of oxytocin in the brain, the neurochemical that activates transportation, and stories activate this process. The more oxytocin released by the story, the more likely that person who heard the story will take action. Telling stories engage larger portions of the brain. Studies have proven that stories activate the regions in the brain that process movement, sights, taste and sounds, making stories far more memorable than fact listing. Jerome Bruner explained that a fact is “wrapped in a story is 22-times more memorable.” As Amanda D’Annunici explains, the brain naturally sees the world through narrative, and that is why stories grab our attention and more fully engage the entire human experience.
Reconciling #5 and #6
McAdams (2005) explains that stories are constructed around metaphors and images predominant in an individual’s culture. While the storyteller may feel his story is completely his to tell, he may not realize that the story has been influenced and shaped by the world in which he lives. For example, a 32-year old woman with a 10-year old son was a survivor of human trafficking who was asked to share her story with a local news reporter. This woman, Amy*, had been forced into the business when she was 14 because her sister, formerly the breadwinner through prostitution, had been shot. Amy had to take her place. Her experience through the years involved stories of unspeakable violence at the hands of pimps and johns until, at age 30, she was savagely beaten and left in a trash can unconscious with broken bones. Someone found her, she was rushed to the hospital by paramedics, and that was the beginning of her life change.
By the time I met her, Amy had been through therapy and was making progress on her life path. In fact, I met her because we did an empowerment photo shoot with her to help her see herself as the strong, intelligent, powerful woman she dreamed of being. In reality, this beautiful woman of color was already this woman, but in a culture disgusted by women in prostitution, a culture that miscasts prostitution as a victimless crime chosen by women too lazy to get a real job, Amy struggled with her own story.
That’s where the term “survivor of human trafficking” changed everything. With society’s increasing understanding of and compassion for survivors of human trafficking, Amy’s story started to form around a theme of strength and survival. She began to realize that she did not cause the violence against her, and she felt strong enough to share her story with the journalist. However, when the story came out, the journalist used phrases like “she chose to get into the business,” because “she liked the male attention,” that she “sold herself” until one day she “realized that what she was doing was wrong and quit.” There was no mention of the violence against her, or that she was a survivor of human trafficking. The article used her real name. She was devastated. She spoke about suicide.
Amy’s survival story had been hijacked by the cultural metaphors ingrained in the reporter. The experience triggered her PTSD and her healing process suffered a serious setback. Who was she? Was she the strong, blameless, survivor of child trafficking that her therapists and advocates led her to believe, or was she the woman in the article who was the victim of no one but herself and therefore deserved her fate? As McAdams (2005) explains, life stories are created by the cultural dance between the individual and society.
Amy was left with another difficult choice - accept her public humiliation and buy into that story, or find a way to integrate yet another painful experience into her life story, and come out on top. To answer the question about how we reconcile #5 and #6, in my opinion, they are not at odds. As Amy’s story shows, cultural contexts influence how a person frames their story. Culture impacts how much control the storyteller has, and how it is interpreted. Sometimes, cultural expectations change in response to education and the repeated outcry against stories gone wrong. As Ohler (2013) explains, regardless of how difficult it might be, survivors like Amy must take control and tell their own stories. This way, they can become the hero of their own story rather than the victim of someone else’s.
McAdams, D. (2005). Studying lives in time: A narrative approach. ATowards an Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Life Course Advances in Life Course Research, 10, 237-258. doi:10.1016/S1040-2608(05)10009-4
Ohler, J. (2013). Digital storytelling in the classroom: New media pathways to literacy, creativity and learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
*Amy is not her real name, but this is a true story. If anyone would like the link to the actual article, I will send it privately so as not to increase the search relevancy for a story that hurts a survivor.
A story map is reflects the plot points in the story core elements in a deeper, more sophisticated way. It includes the plotting of the emotional elements and maps out the plot in a way that makes sense; specifically, the problem, transformation, and resolution. A story map is using a visual tool that helps the creator see the story arch and any potentially missing elements.
A story map is turned into a script, or the written narrative of the story. The script creates the dialogue for the narrator or the conversation between characters that unveil the story core. When the script takes the story core and turns it into a compelling narrative, the audience will to want to hear the message until the end. The script is the the foundation for the story table.
The story table consists of a table with two columns. On one side of the table is the script, and on the other side is a description of the images or media that should be taking visually place during that spot in the script. Using a story map and story table can help the writer or producer save money when planning for a production.
2. How does the story core work?
The story core is the basic story of transformation that happens due to the challenges and opportunities in the characters of the story. It is a challenging problem that compels a person to grow, digress, or transform as a result of that challenge. The purpose of the story core is that it provides a way to structure and identify the story in media. This applies to all forms of business, advertisements, documentaries and more. The story core is the narrative that causes the audience to want to hear the message until the end. It puts audience members in state of anticipation and engagement as they watch the story’s characters transform.
Perhaps the most powerful realization for me in Haven's chapters is that the foundation for understanding human narrative is to grasp the intent of the characters. In every culture, the most fundamental elements of story include having a character with a goal. However, understanding that a character is on a mission does not necessarily explain the intent. An effective story needs to enable the receiver to understand the actions, events, rational and purposes from the perspective of a character.
Intent is created out of the character’s goals and motives that reveal why the goal is so important to the character. Motives and goals shed insight into the character's beliefs and values and therefore dictate behavior. In turn, behavior can give clues to the underlying values, goals, and beliefs of the character. However, since each person has his or her own experiences, filters, and internal story scripts, the interpretation of the character's intent can take on completely different colors. Haven reminds authors that even though they might intend for a story to have a specific meaning,, each receiver will create his own meaning out of the story bits and ascribe the character intentions that may not match the intention of the author. Furthermore, when data is missing, the mind, craving closure, pulls from its own archives and fills in any missing data in a way that makes sense.
I particularly loved the example Haven gave of the monster illustration. Even though two monsters of identical size and expression were shown running through a tunnel, the perspective of the tunnel made one monster appear larger. Since one monster was in front of the other, one not only looked smaller, but the positioning caused people to attribute motives to the monsters: one was the big, angry predator and the other was the little frighten prey. Although the expressions were identical in size and expression, context and perception caused people to believe that the "smaller" monster in front had an expression of fear, while the monster that was bigger had an expression of anger. Viewers interpreted the expressions through the filter of the intentions they ascribed to the monsters. Their interpretations, however, we not supported by the facts they were presented. The researchers in this study concluded that “essential story emotions and elements were more powerful than facts.” This illustrates how powerful a character’s intention is within a story. A person’s understanding of a character’s intention is the key that unlocks emotion and the platform through which the entire story will be interpreted.
I respect the way Dr. Neal identified and organized the key components of story structure according to the various theorists. Some authors define stories as simply having a beginning, middle and end; others require conflict, tests, and struggles. McKee’s elements include strategic sequence, arousal of emotions, an express view of life and events characters’ life stories. Simmons components of story includes a point of view detail, characters, and events, Campbell’s components include a call to action, tests and a helper, and so on.
I must say that I have massive appreciation for the visual mind map that Neal used to describe the content areas of this literature review. The way he organized the mind map made it an contemporary educational piece on the primary and secondary theoretical
foundations of story in and of itself, with the primary foundations being narrative and traditional structure, social group dynamics, social media communication and qualitative analysis. The secondary foundations go into the details of each one. Seeing it laid out this way helped my brain grasp a batch of concepts in a coherent way.
Our life experiences, or stories, help us organize and understand how we became who we are today. As new experiences come in, for better or worse, the things that matter to us change (Greigor, 2013). This means that the stories we choose to tell ourselves, or tell about ourselves to others, changes with time. McAdams (2008) explains that the stories we tell ourselves form our self-identities and create our personalities. People are defined by their stories and rewrite their own self-defining life stories as needed.
People, particularly when young adults, experiment with different stories or different angles of the same story, by telling them to their family and friends. Eventually people figure out their life themes and learn to present their identity by choosing the proper story lines to share (McAdams, 2008). If we have the power to change and polish our stories, then, does changing our stories have the power to change our lives?
Ullrich & Lutgendorf (2002) found that telling one’s story can bring powerful benefits, not just in terms of organizing our identities, but for people who have experienced suffering, telling their stories can even create changes in the brain. However, these benefits are not achieved when people simply recite the facts of their traumatic experience. The benefits occur when people make a cohesive narrative that includes their feelings and what their painful experiences mean to them now (Pennebaker & Beall, 1986). Niederhoffer & Pennebaker (2009) explain that as people tell their stories, they structure them and give them meaning which ultimately allows their past experiences to become integrated in their self-identity in a healthy way. McAdams (2008) explains that “changes in narrative identity constitute real personality change” (p. 246).
People have the power to control their narratives as they have a menu of stories from which they can choose. These stories are chosen and interpreted from within the culture where they exist. They can also choose to modify their stories as their understanding evolves and their values change. In a professional sense, storytelling can be help people take control of their life stories and by so doing, actively craft a healthy self-identity.
Gregoire, C. (2013). What your ‘life story’ really says about you. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/18/how-your-life-story-is-a-_n_4284006.html
McAdams, D. (2005). Studying lives in time: A narrative approach. Towards an Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Life Course Advances in Life Course Research, 10, 237-258. doi:10.1016/S1040-2608(05)10009-4
Niederhoffer, K.G. & Pennebaker, J.W. (2009, July). Sharing one’s story: On the benefits of writing or talking about emotional experience. In Snyder, C.R., Lopez, S.J. Eds, Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology (2nd ed.) Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195187243.013.0059
Pennebaker, J. W., & Beall, S. K. (1986). Confronting a traumatic event: Toward an understanding of inhibition and disease. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 95, 274– 281. http://dx.doi.org.fgul.idm.oclc.org/10.1037/0021-843X.95.3.274
Ullrich, P. M. & Lutgendorf, S. K. (2002). Journaling about stressful events: Effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 24, 3), 244-50.
Revelation 12 resonated with me. This is the revelation about how students need to become heroes of their own learning stories and the heroes in the stories of their own lives. When I was a kindergarten teacher, I remember the joy in the children's faces when they realized they just read their first book. "I did it! I can read! I read it all by myself!" It was a magical moment that created a bounce in the children's step and would bring tears to my eyes. Their little bodies could barely contain their bursting excitement to tell their moms and dads what they accomplished that day. They had a story to tell. They had become heroes of their own learning.
On the other hand, I remember being in a store engaging in small talk with a mother who had a little girl with her. I asked the mother if she was in kindergarten or first grade. She answered, "She's in first grade, but Jenny is so dumb she'll probably be in first grade next year too." I was aghast that a mother would say such a thing in front of her child. I saw Jenny's face become painted with shame. She looked up at me with her big sad eyes and justified her mothers words. "I'm the dumbest. I'm only one in my class who doesn't know how to read."
In Jenny's story, she was a victim. She believed her mother's story about her. I told the mother I was a kindergarten teacher and happened to have some emerging reader books in my purse. I asked if I could take 30 minutes to teach her a few things to boost her confidence. The mother agreed. We sat on the floor between aisles and I decided to change Jenny's story. I told her that I was the magic reading teacher, and I had special powers to help children learn to read. My special powers told me that she was smart. I then spent the first few minutes going through a book playing letter recognition games to give her small successes as she revealed all letters she recognized. I would get excited with each one and reinforce how smart she was. She knew all her letters, and their sounds, except Q! Her mother watched as I took Jenny's hand and guided her fingerpointing over each word while we read the 8-page mini book out loud together. The three of us read it out loud while Jenny pointed to the words on her own. The sweet, positive interaction continued until Jenny could "read" the whole book (only one short sentence on each page), by herself - forward, and backward - proving she was using phonetic cues.
Her mother was floored. I told her privately that the most important lesson for Jenny was to "believe" she was smart and believe she could read. I gave the mother some tips on positive reinforcement, and reassured her that her daughter was smart. I let her keep the book. Jenny already had the phonetic skills, she just needed warm, positive experiences and confidence to help her put it all together. That day, Jenny became a hero in her own learning.
I simply helped change her story.
- Fielding Graduate UniversityPhD Media Psychology, 2014 - present
- University of PhoenixMBA, 2006 - 2008
- Brigham Young UniversityB.S. Psychology, 1989
- Technorazzi MagazineFounder, present
- iMedia CandyTech Exec.,, present
- Contagious Appsco-founder, 2013
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