All conversations are stories.

SO – Yesterday I threw up my gut reaction to the Pat Tillman bamboozle, including some of what I wrote when the story broke.

The reason the friendly-fire truth of the story was covered up? Because the “fallen hero” angle made for a better story. It plugs right into our collective unconscious mythic tagging system, way down deep in our lizard brains. Check out some of the classic Joseph Campbell stuff on the monomyth to get a better idea of what I’m talking about.

When I was back there in Seminary Film School, there was a teacher there who put forth the proposition, that you could… (drifting off into Jim Morrison reference due to Lizard mention…coming back to reality…back.) …that you could boil all your storytelling down to a very simple formula – that you had to – that this was the essence of screenwriting.

I learned more from Charlie Purpura (damn. Charlie died in March. stupid Google always telling me things I don’t want to know.) about story structure in a three week long Summer screenwriting class than I had before or have since.

We’ve all heard about high-concept simplified story pitches, (“It’s like Terminator meets Wag The Dog, but with a feel-good ending. I’m thinking Julia for the lead.”) but what Charlie taught had to do with how to actually tell the story behind your pitch, how to get your audience to care about your characters, and the sorts of things your protagonist would have to do in order to save the day.

So it works for movies – that’s obvious.

A few marketing blogger-types are starting to talk about story structure as a function of the Cluetrain. Hugh MacLeod at Gaping Void has something both useful and recent up about that.

But there’s a journalistic use here also. I’m not far along enough in my J-School bit to know if they’re teaching story structure here or not, but for me it’s the basis of all communication – it’s something so deeply imprinted in our brains and emotional systems that it can pull tears out of us, piss us off, scare us into submission — story structure has our human number.

When the military figured out that Tillman was killed by friendly fire, it screwed up their whole narrative, so they buried it for awhile until the story had been blasted into American consciousness for the record.

Who will tag that story with an asterisk now?

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P.S. – George Bush was reelected last November because the Republican Party told a better story. Think about that, Howard Dean.

2 Replies to “All conversations are stories.”

  1. RE: story structure.
    I can’t speak for everyone else at JMC, but I teach story structure in my section of 100W. Understanding story structure adds another set of “tools” to your writing “toolkit.”

    One of my favorite books on the subject is Pulitzer Prize winner Jon Franklin’s “Writing for Story” (not sure it’s still in print, but there’s always alibris.com).

    I agree…in the media, in business and in politics (as in much of the rest of life), he who has the best story usually wins.

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