Jumping ahead to today, while the wars that are being fought today do not always involve the violence that it did during the Civil War, the war has now switched to be an increasingly intellectual and emotional one. Narrative warfare is the underlying factor that separates churches, creates party lines, and even influences what kind of soap you use!
How does this work? Well, let’s start by looking at what makes a good story. There are many factors that the best authors keep in mind when they are writing a compelling narrative.
Theme: A theme is the main idea that a story tries to covey. Take, for example, one of my favorite Japanese mangas, Naruto. The author, Makashi Kishimoto, incorporated many overarching themes like reaching for your dreams, leadership, friendship, identity, meaning, and suffering. Not every story has a theme, but the best ones try to teach us something that might help us in our own lives.
Plot: A plot is basically the story itself. It is the linear events that make up a story along a path from beginning to end. A basic plot introduces characters, presents a conflict which must be resolved, tension rises until it reaches an epic point or “high point” in the narrative, after which there is a time for the conflict resolution and conclusion.
Characters; The best narratives have extremely memorable characters. I could go down the line and mention story after story, and usually the best stories have characters that almost transcend the story itself and become memorable to everyone that reads the story.
Typically the author tries to create the main characters as interesting or captivating people, but it’s not always the main characters who stand out the most. Not everyone immediately thinks of Luke Skywalker when they hear the phrase “Star Wars” (at least, I don’t). Chances are some people may reference Darth Vader, Han Solo, or Chewie instead of Luke. Either way, memorable characters that captivate the audience are important to a good narrative.
Setting: The place that a story takes place can be as captivating as the story itself and can create a life of its own. Take, for example, J.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, the Trekkie universe, or whatever weird world Dr. Who or Battlestar Galactica fans call “home.” The setting doesn’t have to be a fantasy world, though; the place can even be a real life or familiar place that will aid in creating a great atmosphere.
The best stories have a strong theme, a fascinating plot, unforgettable characters, a well-chosen setting, and an appealing style.
Now think about your favorite book, movie, comic, manga, or any other storytelling medium. Do you see these characteristics in that story? More than that, though, I would bet that part of what makes that narrative your favorite is that it speaks to you in a personal way and in some sense, it has become “a part” of your own life.
We all have an identity and when a narrative is extremely compelling and speaks to you either in theme, character, plot, setting, or other literary device, you incorporate part of that other narrative into your own identity. That is why those Star Trek-Star Wars, Red Sox-Yankees and Pepsi-Coke debates can be so vicious (okay maybe not the Pepsi-Coke thing, but you get the point).
All religions, political positions, and philosophies have their own narratives. Even consumer products seek to create narratives. Every year, millions of dollars are spent paying advertising firms to create an appealing marketing strategy to get you to think that their product is superior to that of the competition. Corporate America has caught on to the idea that storytelling and narrative is what will speak to people today.
When this narrative is incorporated into one’s life and passed on in a way that makes sense to someone else, they buy into it. This is how everything–from philosophical positions, religious beliefs, or political persuasions–are formed and passed on. If an individual, company, church, etc. can get you to incorporate part of their story into yours, they now become part of your life and identity.
This is an example of how Narrative Warfare manifests itself today.
A bothersome component to this narrative concept, though. It is that, like every good story, there has to be an antagonist or “bad guy” for the “hero” in your narrative to be up against.
Next Time: Narrative Warfare: Winners and Losers
What Makes a Good Story? By Aaron Shepard, 1998.