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How Brains Affect Our Stories

Focusing on the results of great narrative fails to illuminate a process for great narrative.

A recent post on How Stories Affect Our Brains dives into the attraction humans have for narrative. The focus of the scientific study referred to in the article was on the measurable increase in levels of cortisol and oxytocin in patients engaged in story:

This evidence supports the view of some narrative theorists that there is a universal story structure. These scholars claim every engaging story has this structure, called the dramatic arc.

Those familiar with the Dramatica theory of story know the particulars of this "universal story structure" and "dramatic arc". This article, however, sticks with the familiar rising-climax-to-transformation insight:

This is why conflict and rising stakes are so important in storytelling. They provide the stress that activates our cortisol centers, making us pay attention to the story.

Cortisol and oxytocin may in fact be present in higher levels with patients observing an actual story, yet it is familiarity in resolving an inequity that actually engages heart and mind. The universal story structure that engages everyone is a narrative based on the mind's problem-solving process. The base given within the Dramatica theory of story states:

Every complete story is an analogy to a single human mind trying to resolve an inequity.

The rising tension to climax owes much to the mind's process of zeroing in on a solution. The transformation refers to the paradigm shift in problem-solving of one of the principal characters. These qualities of great narrative exist as examples of the process of problem-solving.

This scientific study and article center on a physiological explanation for our reaction to story. But as with most takes on story it fails to provide an adequate prescription towards creating this effect. The focus of the scientific study is on the results, not on the process. Dramatica identifies--in no uncertain terms--the process for effective narrative.