Storytelling is an essential and fundamental aspect of being human. The brain seeks out storylines in daily life while looking for connection and understanding in everything from mundane tasks to trying to grasp one’s place in the world. How can we use the science and psychological need for storytelling to improve our scripts? Well, today I’m exploring just that!
How the brain and storytelling are similar
There’s chaos all around us, and the brain wants to create order out of it. To do that, the mind is breaking down information into stories. The storytelling concept of there being a crisis or a problem, then a struggle grappling with the issue, and then a resolution is the same way our brains perceive these actions happening to us. We’re all leading characters in our own movies according to our minds. Our intrinsic desire to tell ourselves stories means that we’re all born storytellers. As a writer, if you ever find yourself doubting your ability, think about how your brain is naturally inclined to tell stories and let that soothe your worries!
The brain is the key to why conflict matters in story
Every story can be broken down to one fundamental concept, and that is change. A story is a series of changes happening to the characters involved in it. You’ve likely heard that conflict is essential to an exciting script, but have you ever wondered why that is? The human brain is all about change; every minute of every day, it’s busy processing changes in your environment and experiences. Since our minds are professional change detectors, stories that produce interesting and unexpected changes trigger our interest. When stories continue to produce unexpected changes, it rivets our brains with endless possibilities of what can happen due to a change.
What story changes are most interesting to the brain?
When you think back to old-timey storytelling, what do you think of? Maybe you think of cautionary tales or parables that say what’s moral and immoral. Stories back then can be thought of as teaching tools telling people how to be safe. Danger is ever-present, and the human brain wants to take in stories to learn how to avoid it. Not all change is bad, but negative change is particularly attractive to the brain, as hearing about it can help us understand how to protect ourselves against it, or how to deal with it.
Simpler is better in storytelling
Because storytelling is something that comes naturally to us, it’s important to write honestly and economically. All writers start with the advantage that audiences want to be interested in your story; the human brain is predisposed to it! Studies show that corresponding areas of the brain activate between the storyteller and listeners. While we often want to create unique, unheard of, elaborate stories, the most straightforward path is usually the one that will interest audiences the most. The simplest telling of your story will make it easier for the brain to relate to it, process it, and stay engaged. Don’t believe me? Just ask the folks at Pixar.
While you don’t need to be a scientist or a psychologist to be a good storyteller, it can help to look at how our brains interact with storytelling. Story is at the core of who we all are. Understanding the brain’s innate desire to seek order through stories can be helpful when working on your own writing. Need help getting started? Check out this helpful 18-step guide for the essential elements in a three-act screenplay.
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