The Power of Narrative
We have noted that rhetorical situations are situations which we seek to understand
by engaging others. Narratives frame the situations to which we respond. Strategically,
we use language to come to terms with, and coordinate our response to, the situations
of our lives. The power to name the situation -- to use language to come to a
shared understanding of it -- is the power to influence action.
- When events occur, we talk with others about those events to understand the events.
- We strategically work with the narratives of others to see if they help us frame the events in a
way that makes sense to us and allows us to respond as we think appropriate.
- We strategically generate our own accounts to explain what we see having happened in the
events and how we believe we should respond.
The Shape of Narrative
A narrative is an account of events. Don't make it too hard. A narrative is simply a story of what
happened. The account conveys a particular understanding of the event and how and why it
occurred. Narratives are shaped by:
- Character. Not just who, but what they are like
- We see heroes, devils, victims, friends and foes in narratives
- Narratives often feature the powerful and the powerless
- Plot Line. A narrative gives events a sequence
- Often narratives involve the struggle between a protagonist and an antagonist
- The plot usually reaches a climax: a moment of greatest tension
- Narratives also typically resolve themselves into an idea about the right way to act to
address the tension of the account
The Uses of Narrative
- Narrative gives events a logic. In rhetorical situations, we wonder what happened, how, and
why. Narratives provide us answers to those questions that we are comfortable with. They
construct a logical account.
- Identify friends and enemies. Narratives help us to enter a situation ourselves by giving us
clues about who we should see as our allies, our friends, and who we will find opposing us.
- Predicts what will happen next; prepares us for events. Narratives have plot lines that
carry into the future and thus predict events. They allow us to feel that we know how to enter
a situation and respond to it.
- Empowers particular responses. The way we act in the face of events must be appropriate.
The narrative tells us about an event in a way that allows us to see appropriate response.
- Gives a sense of inevitability to events. Because it names events as having a certain
character, a narrative gives us a sense of distance from the consequences of our own action. It
allows us to see our actions in relationship to the events and the actions of others.
We thus strategically use narrative to orient ourselves to events that happen in our life. To figure
out what happened and how we should respond to it.
- Is the narrative constructed well as a narrative
- What does speaker wish to accomplish with the narrative chosen?
- Is the narrative chosen a wise choice for the speaker's purpose? Why? Why
- Are there ways the speaker could have improved the narrative?
- Apply the criteria for stories as evidence
- Evaluate the breadth of the narrative by looking for relevant events excluded
from the narrative.
- Is there evidence of intent of characters?
- Is there evidence of post hoc fallacy?
- Do different starting points alter the story? Are such alterations significant?